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Does Your Child Say This? "I forgot."

by James Lehman, MSW
Does Your Child Say This? I forgot.

Is your child’s answer to everything, “I forgot?” The fact of the matter is, sometimes children do forget, and certainly a reminder from the parent to do their work or complete a task is appropriate. But when kids use “I forgot” on a regular basis, it becomes a way to justify irresponsible behavior. As an excuse, “I forgot” means the child is avoiding a certain task or responsibility which they don’t feel they can perform and don’t know how to get help with. Or it could be because they’re being lazy and don’t care about it. Laziness causes as much irresponsible behavior on the part of children as any other explanation. Sometimes laziness can be interpreted as “I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.” Sometimes laziness can be interpreted as “My life’s not going to get better anyway, why should I try?” In either case, laziness doesn’t empower the child to take care of business.
So when your child says “I forgot,” you have to say, “Forgetting is not an excuse to justify not doing something.”

Child: “I forgot!”

Translation: “I don’t feel like it.” Or ”Why should I try?”

Ineffective response: You didn’t forget! You’re just saying that because you’re lazy.”

Effective response: “Not forgetting is your responsibility. I’ll help you learn ways to not forget, such as creating an assignment book for school, or using cue cards to prompt you for the next task. If you’d like, I’ll help you develop a list. But you are responsible for remembering what it is you need to do.”

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James Lehman, MSW was a renowned child behavioral therapist who worked with struggling teens and children for three decades. He created the Total Transformation Program to help people parent more effectively. James' foremost goal was to help kids and to "empower parents."


This answer is so great! Are there more?!

Comment By : heidi scanlon

What do you do when your kid does not want to do any work in school? He is 11 years old and in the 4th grade.

Comment By : Sobe

my daughter is 5 ,sometimes when i asked her about what she does in school today she says i do not know. or i cant remember is this normal?

Comment By : shanti

Good advise! Follow through with those age appropriate lists or even pictures to help them remember. I find that repetition is the key! It works well for my 8 year old ADHD Son.

Comment By : J in Vancouver,WA

I will be changing my response to my kids' "I forgot". They need to learn how to help themselves remember...

Comment By : Gail

My 20 year old step son rarely "remembers" to clean up his room, or any of his few chores. He does go to school, but doesn't put his all into it. He does have a job, but has little ambition. He sits around during all his free time playing video games. This is a very bright and good looking kid who is absolutely lazy and unmotivated. My husband has threatened, I've explained, offered help, taken him to shrinks who gave him meds for his ADHD and depression. He is now off the meds and will be 21 in a few months. He's a sweet kid, but will he ever be a man able to take care of himself?

Comment By : JP

My 11 yr old son "forgot" to do some schoolwork and got an F on the papers. I made him bring it home and complete it. He said what's the se i already got an F WHY DO IT. I told him it was his responsibility to complete his schoolwork when assigned. I forgot is not an acceptable reason. If I forgot to pay the cable bill there would be no TV. No car payment no car etc. He wasnt happy about it but he did it, I told him it was learning the schoolwork and by not doing it it would also put him behind the other kids in his class. The teachers & staff at school was pleased that i did this and told me they wished other parents used the same approach

Comment By : monasue

"I forgot", is my fifteen yr. olds favorite line that I am now fully equipt to respond to properly. It makes so much sence. Thanks

Comment By : A "married" single mom

I had a son who really did forget. Although he was superior visually, he was below average auditorily. So he really did forget if I told him to do something. So the way we dealt with it is that I wrote it down for him to see. I found this also seemed to help some of my other children. They tend to be more visual learners. If it was written he would actually remember. You are right though many times "I forgot" is laziness. So sometimes I would just "forget."

Comment By : momof7

To Heidi: Often when children say they don't want to do the work in school or home, there are other issues at work. How long has your child been unhappy with school work? Does he have a learning disability? Is his vision okay? Does he have difficulties with other students or with the teacher? Are there other stressors in his life? Often, when children go through difficulties, the school work may be the first reflection of something else going on.

Comment By : Trudy

* Dear JP: We've had many parents write in who are in a similar situation with their child. There are a couple articles I'd like to direct you to on our website: Please check out "Rules, Boundaries and Older Children". Also, "Motivating the Unmotivated Child". Hope you find these articles helpful, and good luck!

Comment By : Elisabeth Wilkins, Editor

EP does it again! Our boys are forever giving up this excuse for homework, chores, or any mundane take they've been asked to attend to. Our 15 and 12 year old boys go to it like water. Now? Now my 3 year old is picking up on it. How do I communicate responsibility to him so that I can nip this in the bud?

Comment By : Sazaran

* Hi, Sazaran. It’s very normal for toddlers to imitate behavior they see in siblings and adults. All you need to do is just tell him that he still needs to do ______ and once it’s done, then he can continue doing whatever it is he is doing. Basically the point is to avoid arguing about whether or not he forgot and motivate him to get it done. Over time he should see that “I forgot” doesn’t get him out of doing what he’s been asked. And remember to stay calm and businesslike. We wish you the best. Take care.

Comment By : Sara Bean, M.Ed., Parental Support Advisor

Yes, great for the first, second, and third time. What about when they say they forgot to use the books, tools, methods, etc. Our son, who is 12, "forgets" everything. He has ADHD, is on meds, has an organization coach who is a specialist in ADHD (visits once a week for an hour), etc. and he still "forgets". Could you elaborate when he is forgetting so much that he is failing half his classes? We check up daily on his progress through the school computer system, both on due assignments for the next day and assignments turned in, work with his teachers to get him extra help, sit in front, etc. and still nothing works. Short of doing the work for him, he forgets everything.

Comment By : IForgetMyName

* To “IForgetMyName”: You ask a great question. It can be very frustrating when you try something several times and still the behavior doesn’t change. For some kids, it does take longer for replacement behaviors to develop. As James advises in his article Consistent Parenting: Unlock the Secret, the keys to learning are rehearsal, repetition and internalization. From what you have written, it sounds like you have been able to develop a good working relationship with the school. That is beneficial when you are trying to help your child develop good organization and study skills. For your part, we would suggest focusing on what you can control in the home, namely having a homework structure in place. There are many articles on our website that address structuring homework time. One you may find helpful is End the Nightly Homework Struggle 5 Homework Strategies that Work for Kids. Something else to keep in mind is the majority of kids with ADHD tend to respond better to rewards than consequences. Dr. Bob gives some useful techniques for helping a child with ADHD develop better behavior in his article ADHD and Young Children: Unlocking the Secrets to Good Behavior. For example, he suggests rewarding kids when they implement the organization skills they have learned. You might consider working with the organization coach to develop an incentive plan for your son that focuses on what he is being taught. We hope this information is useful for your situation. Take care.

Comment By : D. Rowden, Parental Support Advisor

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Related keywords:

parenting skills, James Lehman, The Total Transformation, Total Transformation, ADD children, Angry teenagers, brat camp, teen respect, Kids behavior, parenting classes, teaching responsibility

Responses to questions posted on are not intended to replace qualified medical or mental health assessments. We cannot diagnose disorders or offer recommendations on which treatment plan is best for your family. Please seek the support of local resources as needed. If you need immediate assistance, or if you and your family are in crisis, please contact a qualified mental health provider in your area, or contact your statewide crisis hotline.

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