Why Is My Child Having Trouble Remembering Directions and Lists?

By Laura Tagliareni, PhD
Email's logo Email's logo


Copy link


Chat's logo Chat's logo



My child is having trouble remembering directions and lists. What would make a kid so forgetful?


We all have a tendency to forget things at times. But some parents feel like they’re constantly nagging their kids because they can’t remember what was said the first two or three (or ten) times. 

Some parents assume kids act this way because they have memory problems. However, this is rarely actually the case. In fact, memory problems are generally only the cause for “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 your words are actually being heard. Get your child’s hearing tested. If there’s no sign of hearing loss, you may want to read up on auditory processing skills 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 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 your child feels stressed with the increasing demands of academics and social activities. A child’s mind can go blank because it’s preoccupied with other things.

Fatigue: Perhaps your child is overscheduled. There may be a full day at school, followed by tutoring, therapy, sports or other activities. By the time your child arrives home, the exhaustion may be too much 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

About the Author

Laura Tagliareni, PhD 

is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Did you find this helpful?

Up Next

Stay Informed

Sign up for weekly emails containing helpful resources for you and your family.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Please wait...

By signing up, you acknowledge that you reside in the United States and are at least 13 years old, and agree that you've read the Terms and Conditions. Understood.org does not market to or offer services to individuals in the European Union.