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My 10-Year-Old Daughter is Forgetful

Question:

I *LOVE* your Positive Discipline book and am trying to incorporate it, one step at a time, into my own parenting. But I have this one ongoing problem that I just don't know how to handle. My 10 year old daughter is 'forgetful'. In other words, she forgets to do the dishes. She forgets that I had told her no TV today and asks her father, who lets her since he did not yet know that I had denied it. She forgets that she's supposed to make her bed. She forgets that she has to have a clean room before inviting friends over. Some of these situations have clear consequences...if your room is not fit for visitors, you can't have any. If you run out and play without having made your bed, I'm going to call you in to do it. Today, for instance, I walked in, she was watching TV, I told her to turn it off, we had a quick dialog remembering the TV rule for the day and that was that. But she forgets things quite frequently - I think she thinks she really has forgotten; I don't get the sense that she's being dishonest about it - and has since she could speak, pretty much. I know that we need to beware of that which works quickly, but WHEN will she begin remembering??

I'm worn out and more than a little despondent about the number of times that she 'forgets' something. The possibility of this behavior having its roots in rebellion (of the passive aggressive sort) or attention-seeking seem most likely to me, yet concentrated efforts in those areas have not seemed to help. Discussions (I didn't think affair to air it at a family meeting since it usually only involves me anther) towards the matter in a calm time haven't helped. Are there other techniques in your bag of tricks that may help with this? Any insight you might provide would be most welcome; thank you!

Answer:

My name is Jody McVittie. I am part of the team that answers the questions for the Positive Discipline website. I am a family physician (not practicing at the moment) and the parent of 3 teens (ages 11, 14 and 16).

I enjoyed your question because it reminds me so much of my youngest daughter. I only know what you have written in 2 paragraphs, but it is my guess that your daughter is very smart....and not really forgetful. She is using "forgetting" as a strategy to get special service in your family....and it works. My sense is that this is your gut feeling too....but it is a bit confusing, since she is SO good at it, its hard to tell if her head really has the information in there at all. She may indeed "forget"...that is, no longer hold on to the important memories...because it serves her well and because other people do the remembering for her. It sounds like the "other people" is primarily you (as you notice that the problem is primarily between you and her).

You don't mention whether or not you have other children, but if I were to guess, I would venture that your 10 year old is your youngest child. (This is the kind of activity that youngest children are such experts at!!!). She will begin "remembering" when others no longer remember for her and when the strategy no longer gets her special service. Ha! Just because I can write that in one sentence, don't think that this will be easy. Here are some steps that might help.

  1. Stop labeling your daughter as forgetful. (Or labeling her at all). Notice that her behavior, which is to ignore the rules and pretend that they don't exist is working very well for her. Sometimes it has the effect of not having rules, and sometimes it has the effect of engaging you in direct interaction. (Kids don't care if the engagement is positive or negative).
  2. Since you have read the Positive Discipline book, go look at the mistaken goal chart. Use your feelings to give you a clue about your daughter's mistaken goal. Are you feeling annoyed/irritated, or more provoked and challenged? You will get an idea of what her mistaken belief about how to get belonging and significance is. (For example, she may believe to get belonging and significance she needs to be the center of attention or get special service...or she may believe that she needs to be the boss). Either way, the mistaken goal chart (far right column) will have some strategies you can try.
  3. Help her feel belonging and significance in positive ways. Make sure that you have scheduled special time with her (not as a reward, but just time together as part of your regular routines). Make sure that she has jobs that contribute to the family in a way that she can enjoy. Does she enjoy cooking, baking, gardening, helping out with fix it projects? Does she have regular household responsibilities (making her bed and cleaning her room doesn't count..those don't contribute to the household.)
  4. Take a look at your values...and try to figure out what is really important. By 10 most girls are starting to differentiate from their parents. (In other words, turn into teens!) Some girls suddenly resent being told how to keep their room, their bed etc. When will you stop making that your job...and let it be hers? Could you make cleaning the room a once a week job? Could you make making her bed optional? The more power you give her over these decisions, the more responsibility she can learn. Now don't think that when you stop making it your job it will get done! But if the room is a mess when friend come over, and the friends comment on it, that is a much more powerful influence than you telling your daughter what to do. The less you MAKE her do, the more willing she will be to cooperate, but that does not mean there should be no limits. Every family has to decide for themselves what behavior is appropriate. Just remember, that as she gets older, you really want to pick your battles.
  5. Look at the steps of follow through. They are most clearly explained in Positive Discipline for Teenagers, which you can get at your library or order from the website. These deceptively simple steps are incredibly powerful. The key is the agreement piece. It does not work if it is top down. Work together to get an agreement.
  6. Ask your daughter for problem solving help. Example: I notice that you seem to not remember what the rules are. I don't enjoy reminding you. Could we pick a time to try and solve this problem? Remember that the problem solving steps include listening deeply to the other person's perception of what is going on. (Even solutions that don't sound like they will work often do if they are from the child...and trying anything for a week won't hurt)
  7. Family meetings. After you have tried to solve the problem by yourself, and you have asked your daughter for help and you have tried her solutions for awhile why not ask for more help. Maybe the rest of the family has some insight on possible solutions. When you talk about it not being fair, I suspect that you envision kind of ganging up on your daughter. The key here is remembering that you are asking for problem solving help...not a way to make your daughter do what you want her to do. This will not work if there is blame involved...but will work if done with the goal of looking for new solutions. If you use the family meeting, make sure that you are willing to try something new, something your family might suggest that YOU do differently.
  8. If indeed your ten year old is your youngest child (which she may not be, it is just my hunch) step back for a moment and think about why dealing with youngest children can be challenging for mothers. My youngest is an expert at pulling my chains. It is hard for me to figure out why it is harder for me to let her experience the natural consequences of her actions, why I step in to do more for her than I would have for my other children at 11.

Mostly I think it is because there is not a younger child bugging me at the same time. I fall into the trap that lots of parents do of not wanting their children to have to hurt. It is a challenge for me even though I KNOW that kids need to stretch their psychological muscles. They need to experience mistakes and the consequences of their actions and I as a parent need to have faith that they can deal with those mistakes and move on. Even if it hurts. And I know that it will be my job to have sympathy and empathy and not say "I told you so" or "if you had done it the way I told you" or give other messages that try to add teaching to the real life lesson that they are feeling. That takes faith that they will learn from life. That takes the real recognition that in just a very few years that my job of being the primary teacher/guide etc will be over. (And I don't mean when they leave home....parents get demoted well before then.

Our job changes from being teacher/guide to home base/ resource/ frame of reference/ reasonable limit setter pretty much by the time your child is 13. That doesn't mean you can't teach and guide still...it means it will happen on their schedule and you will teach when they want you to be the resource. The demotion is hardest with the youngest child....we cling to that old job....even when we are trying to let go.

Gosh...I can think of an incident from our household this morning. This time she was late to the swim meet because at the very last minute she couldn't find her team suit. But before I let go and realized she would just have to be late, I tried to rescue her first by finding her suit.(And I wasn't really calm about it either!) Finally she said, "Mom, I wish you would just quit making me feel so awful." Ouch. But she was right. I apologized. It is SO hard to let go. Your daughter is lucky to have a parent who cares...and who is able to ask hard questions.

Best wishes to you and your family.

Jody McVittie, M.D. Certified Positive Discipline Associate

 

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