“Don’t forget!” is one of those things I say to my daughter with gusto in my voice but fear in my soul.
“Don’t forget to pack your music folder in your backpack for singing class this afternoon.”
“Don’t forget to put your laundry away.”
“Don’t forget to return your library books.”
Yeah, she’s totally going to forget, I tell myself as she walks out of my sight.
I’m learning that “don’t forget” is a waste-of-time command. As time management expert Leslie Josel explained on the Mighty Parenting podcast, “Your brain is a muscle like every other muscle in your body.
And just like every other muscle, it needs to be exercised. If you the parent are the one calling the shots — go here at this time, go there at this time, don’t forget your water bottle, don’t forget your soccer bag — the only brain that is being exercised is yours.”
Instead, you want to help your kids form their own connections. For younger kids, a simple question to ask is: “How are you going to remember that?”
It’s a question that makes them pause, and then start coming up with solutions — a skill they will need to use all day, every day, for the rest of their lives. When you ask “How are you going to remember that you need to meet me in front of school at 2:30 instead of 3 p.m. today?” they might say they will write a note for themselves and put it in their folder.
When you ask “How are you going to remember to bring home the jacket you left at your friend’s house last time?” perhaps they’ll say they can put it in their bag as soon as they get there.
With older kids and teens, Josel says she likes to ask, “What’s your plan?” It’s softer, and sounds more like curiosity than nagging. She gives the example, “What’s your plan to get that paper written because we’re going to grandma’s for the weekend?”
“What you’re doing is you’re helping them see time,” she explains. “You’re helping them see future time. All of a sudden, their brain is forced to actually think ahead.”
Maybe their plan will work, or maybe it won’t. Your kids will probably forget things sometimes, face the consequences, and then hopefully come up with a better plan next time.
What the shift in language does is detach you, the parent, from their daily triumphs and fails. It’s now on them. And you’ve got more peace of mind as they walk away, figuring out their own lives.