A Parent’s Concern About Her Son’s Memory

As someone who has a strong interest in memory development and improvement, I am consulted by people from all walks of life who want to find out more about how they can improve their memory for their specific circumstances.

Many of those who ask me to help them are concerned parents. Here is a question that I was asked only last week together with the advice I gave (names and some details have been changed to protect the identity of those involved).

Dear Michael,

I have seen your site on memory improvement and I wondered if you could help me. My son is 12 years old, he is currently at boarding school in the UK and this is his second year. He has always been a bright child and never struggled with school work achieving above average in SAT’s results and being successful in obtaining a scholarship when sitting the entrance exams for the school he attends now. I was extremely proud of him, and i still am.

However since being at this new school, it has become apparent that he just does not know how to organise himself. He regularly forgets his books, pens, sports kit, shoes! I’ve had to send him shoes in the post because he has neglected to pick them up after sport.

His coat, in the middle of winter… gone…disappeared off the face of the earth, I bought a new coat and then he found the original coat, you name it he’s forgotten it or lost it! It’s driving me insane.

At first i thought maybe other kids where taking his things and hiding them, but this isn’t the case, because when he has found things he has then realised that the place where he has found the item was where he actually left it! He is constantly in detention for forgotten equipment, homework etc It’s as if any common sense he had has just disappeared.

I’m worried now because i get a lot of negative feedback from the teachers, he must be getting more negative feedback from the teachers. I get frustrated with him. And i know it is going to do more harm than good, he is going to start believing that he can not succeed.


Do you have any advice, techniques, tips, anything.

Thank you, sorry if I am one of many raving mothers who write to you.



Here was my reply:

Hi Daphne,

First of all I’d like to say thank you for placing your trust in me to offer you some advice about your son and the challenges he appears to be having with his memory.

I have encountered this sort of situation many times and recently helped a 14 year old boy local to me deal with exactly the same challenge. I hope that you have noticed I have not used the word “problem” here in referring to your son because I don’t think he has a problem.

The problem lies with the differences between the way he thinks and operates (which appear to be entirely normal) and the expectations/standards of the environment he finds himself in – the “problem” is one of “square peg/round hole”.

I expect that your son is a creative type with a great imagination, maybe artistic/musical? If he is prone to daydreaming and has fanciful ideas then it is just that he is more right brain dominant than left.

The right side of the brain is the more creative focussing on daydreaming, imagination, colour, rhythm and the left side is more linear, logical and sequential. This theory is a trivialisation of a much more complex inter-relationship between the two hemispheres of the brain but is still a good metaphor/model to help offer some explanations in the way different people think.

Someone with a right brain emphasis in the way they think can see little or no value or merit in structure, organisation and routing (this is not to say they rebel against it, more likely that they just are not aware that a world like that even exists!). I’d suggest that when your son “forgets” things it is not really because of a poor memory but more because of a lack of concentration.

This sounds exactly like the nephew of a close friend. David (name changed) was a bright lad (in year 9 when I worked with him and now in year 10) who was forever getting in trouble for leaving homework at home, turning up in class without essential stuff and so on and like you, his mother was pulling her hair out with him and so she asked if I could do something with him.

Very quickly here is what I did. First of all it had to be someone outside of the family who spoke to him but someone who David knew and respected (David knew of my memory credentials and had also been to my Aikido club).

You will find that the most frustrating part of dealing with this is that you are the last person in the world who can help him make the change because you are so close to him (and have an emotional investment in him changing his behaviour).

Anyway what I did with David was first of all to ask him about the situation at school (because I often get concerned parents thrusting youngsters at me and asking me to “fix” them when the poor kid has no idea that what he (rarely a she) is doing wrong.

David explained to me what was happening and we looked at how he felt about it, especially upsetting his mother and we established that he wasn’t happy with it (an important step because he needed to want it to change before change could take place instead of having change thrust upon him by someone else).

I went on to explain to him the difference between the right and left brain thought processes and showed him that the challenges he was facing weren’t because of a problem but more because of differences. The purpose of this was to make sure he didn’t feel that he was wrong/bad/deficient in anyway.

I then asked him what would be the consequences if he was able to remember everything he needed to take to school – focussing on the good feelings he would get by the positive responses from his teachers and his mother in particular. He said he would like it if his teachers were pleased with him and if his mother didn’t get upset anymore. It was important to focus on these good feelings.

The next thing I did was ask him what he would need to do to get those good feelings (his answer was quite simple – remember what he needed to for school).

It was at this point that he took responsibility for dealing with the situation because I then got him to brainstorm all the ways that he could ensure that he didn’t forget stuff – he came up with ideas like writing out a list the night before and making sure that it was piled up ready to go by the front door so that he would practically fall over it.

Another idea was to leave a note on his guitar (a keen musician and very rarely far from his “axe”). We also looked at a reward for him for the first time he got a merit for punctuality/remembering everything.

The key thing throughout all of this was that I just asked a load of questions, some more pointed than others, to direct his thinking to associate with the challenge, recognise the consequences of not changing, imagining what a better situation would be, getting him to take responsibility for making the change, asking him how HE could create that situation and getting him to agree on an appropriate reward when he managed to achieve all that. I also charged him for my consultancy services – an hours guitar lesson which he was gladly willing to give me!

You’ll be encouraged to know that David no longer has any problems remembering stuff at school and has since shot up the class rankings because of his more (self) focussed approach to his schooling.

Daphne, I hope that gives you some hope and some ideas and my apologies for the long winded response but as this has happened quite recently for me, I thought I’d give you chapter and verse on what I did with David.

I hope this helps

Regards and best wishes


PS I don’t think you are a raving mother – it is the unwritten law that you show concern as you have done but paradoxically it is also the equally unwritten law that your son give you these challenges too