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Issues involving spoken language

Why Is My Child Having Trouble Remembering Directions and Lists?

By Laura Tagliareni

Why is my child having trouble remembering directions and lists?

Laura Tagliareni

Pediatric Neuropsychologist

We all have a tendency to forget things at times. But do you feel like you’re constantly nagging your child because he can’t remember what you said the first two or three or ten times? Are you constantly reminding him to do things like put his homework in his backpack?

Some parents assume kids act this way because they have memory problems. However, it’s quite rare that this is actually the case. (In fact, memory problems are only the likely cause for this “forgetfulness” if a child has medical issues such as epilepsy, brain injury or brain tumors, or side effects from certain medications.) Here are the more common issues that may be causing or contributing to your child’s forgetfulness:

Hearing issues: The first step to figuring out what’s going on with your child is making sure he can actually hear you. Get his hearing tested. If there’s no sign of hearing loss, you may want to read up on auditory processing disorders in case that could be a factor here.

Attention issues: Your child may appear to be listening to you when actually he’s daydreaming. Children with weaknesses in attention and executive functioning skills can often recall only some of what they’re tasked with remembering. That’s because their working memory simply cannot “hold on” to the information as well as is typical children their age.

Speech and language delays: Children who have difficulties in certain aspects of language skills, such as receptive language, may not grasp all of the information they’re hearing. In other cases, children have trouble understanding humor and other social aspects of language. This is referred to as pragmatic language. It’s harder to remember or act on information if it doesn’t make sense to you.

Anxiety or stress: Stress or anxiety can interfere greatly with attention. Feeling anxious about a big exam can make your child “blank out.” The same thing can happen if he feels stressed with the increasing demands of academics and social activities. His mind may be going blank because it’s preoccupied with other things.

Fatigue: Perhaps your child is overscheduled. He may have a full day at school, followed by tutoring, therapy, sports or other activities. By the time he arrives home, he may simply be too exhausted to think clearly. Children who are constantly tired or stretched too thin can have trouble concentrating.

Keep in mind that we all have bad days, busy days and stressful days from time to time. Occasional forgetfulness is normal. But if you feel your child is often not “hearing” you, it may be time to head to the pediatrician. Talk with your child’s teacher too. If the school has similar concerns, you may want to request an evaluation.

About the Author

LPortrait of aura Tagliareni

Laura Tagliareni

Laura Tagliareni, Ph.D., is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

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