On February 25th, 2018 we learned about

Younger kids are more likely to need help managing their prospective memory

When my third-grader gets home from school each day, she nearly always bursts in the door, dropping her bag and jacket on the floor. She leaves the front door open, which then reliably causes my blood pressure to tick up as I gripe at her about this little afternoon routine. For all the requests I’ve made that she close the door, hang up her jacket, and maybe even empty her lunch box, she still somehow claims to have forgotten those tasks, which seems absurd in my mind. How could she forget after all my nagging? Apparently quite easily, according to research from The University of Queensland.

The mechanism that, as annoyed parent, seems deficient in these scenarios is known as ‘prospective memory.’ This is the memory that helps us keep track of mundane tasks on a regular basis, and is actually quite unreliable in just about everyone. Adults forget to take out the trash or turn off the lights too, but we’ve simply developed strategies to deal with those lapses in memory. This can be by avoiding having someone around to chastise us for our mistake, or by expecting that we’ll forget something and setting up reminders in advance. To put it another way, kids prospective memory is no worse than adults, but they just don’t have the to-do lists and calendar reminders that adults do.

Learning their limitations

To test how kids manage their prospective memory, children from age seven to 13 were asked to play a video game that required them to remember on to three things in order to be successful. They were also given the option to set reminders for themselves while playing, theoretically relieving some their burden. While kids of all ages understood that remembering three things would be trickier than one, the younger kids didn’t seem to appreciate how a reminder would help. Only children over nine years old ever set the reminders, meaning all the younger kids were asking a lot more of their memory.

These results fit with other studies of children’s memories. While even a three-year-old can understand that remembering one thing is easier than remembering ten, younger kids don’t seem to have a sense of how to work within their cognitive boundaries. Only after age nine are kids more likely to pay extra attention to more difficult sets of information, or take advantage of tools that might reduce the effort needed in the first place.

No more nagging

As many adults have figured out, the easiest way to keep track of things is to work around the limitations of your prospective memory. Being repeatedly told to remember something probably won’t help as much as simply writing a note for yourself. This is in contrast to say, a parent repeatedly nagging a child to remember some particular chore, as all that nagging isn’t going to make the kid’s prospective memory any more effective.

Basically, kids can benefit from the same tools and tricks adults use. If a child isn’t quite ready for a phone beeping away with reminders, building other memory aids into their day, like chore checklist on their bedroom door, or placing a lunchbox near their bag, is a good way to put tasks in places where kids will catch them. Over time, these behaviors will hopefully become habitualized enough that they don’t slip through the cracks. Or at least the kid will grow up enough to start writing their own reminders on their hands like the rest of us.

Source: Parents, stop nagging kids not to forget – set visual cues instead by Adam Bulley, Jonathan Redshaw & Sam Gilbert, The Conversation

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