My child keeps losing things!

My seven-year-old keeps losing her belonging, such as pencils, sharpeners, books and her school agenda! I have tried letting her go without and punishing her by taking away her favorite games. What is going on and how do I fix this problem?

Question:

I, too, have a seven-year-old and believe me, I can empathize! Many children have difficulty keeping track of their things, which is usually due to a combination of factors.

First of all, up until the age of eight, children are very "here and now." They pay attention to this moment and to what follows immediately. So the child who is about to run to catch the bus is thinking about running, about meeting her friend, about saying good-bye to you or her caregiver, but not about the lunch or the books she'll need later on in the day. When she arrives home, she is missing items from school. And because she is so caught up with what she's doing and her next plan, she rarely takes the time to put what she just used in its place -- a place where she can find it again.

Another factor that causes you to frequent the school lost and found may be your child's individual nature. Chances are she has many strengths and talents, but organization is not one of them. And although you can't change your child's approach to the world (she may grow up to lose her keys, her wallet, her date book) you can develop routines that will help you both.

Designate some "checkpoints" -- a place and time where your child routinely stops and thinks about her belongings. One checkpoint might be the doorway of your home. Teach your child to stop at the door and go through a mental list of what she needs, or post an actual checklist on the wall. Her list might include book bag, lunch box, notes for the teacher. Suggest that she set up checkpoints at school. One might be her desk before recess, or her cubby before coming home. Some children find it worthwhile to develop a visual picture of their checkpoint list. For instance, your daughter could picture her lunch box wearing her eyeglasses and having pencils for hair. The wackier the image, the more your child is likely to remember it.

Come up with very specific "homes" for her belongings. Perhaps her school agenda is always on the table in the living room, her erasers are always in a cup on the kitchen counter. Let her know how pleased you are when you see those belongings in their place.

Fortunately, many children develop an interest in collections (baseball cards, bean toys, bugs) around this time. As they work with their collections, they begin to categorize them in different ways. You might hear your child demonstrate this process with statements such as, "These are all my animals that have four legs," or "These are my most precious rocks." Encourage collecting (although you'll have to put up with more stuff everywhere for a while). This new ability to categorize and place a value on things begins to spill over into everyday life. Suddenly you'll discover your child arranging her junk drawer or demonstrating more care and concern over all of her personal belongings.

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