My 10-year-old son seems to have a bad memory only where I am concerned. If I say, "Please take out the trash," half an hour later he’ll tell me, "I forgot." The same thing happens with other chores. He only seems to forget what he doesn’t want to do.
In this column, I’ve already analyzed a common childhood affliction: selective hearing loss, deafness to any words a child doesn’t want to hear. The treatment: Make Giles repeat to you any request or directive, thus making it impossible for him to truthfully claim he didn’t hear you. If he still persists in ignoring you, place consequences upon his behavior. In other words, put a cost on tuning you out.
For most kids, this will also cure a related disorder: juvenile memory deficit, characterized by forgetting unwanted words. To determine how badly your son suffers from JMD, try this diagnostic test: "Earhard, I promise I’ll give you $5 one month from now. All you have to do to get it is to remember the exact place and time — to the second — that I made this promise. I’ll ask you about it next month."
Some children with JMD actually have photographic memories, but only at select times. Kermit forgot to feed the turtles two minutes after being reminded for the third time, yet he can describe exactly how his brother didn’t do what he was told to do on Friday morning at 7:10am three weeks ago. Even the worst case of JMD doesn’t hamper a child’s ability to remember your every transgression or "inequity" as a parent.
Once you’ve diagnosed JMD, you can implement the proper treatment, which is similar to the treatment for selective hearing loss: Require your son to look you in the eye and repeat what you just said. Be advised: It is not foolproof for JMD. Faith can still claim she "forgot" what both you and she said.
You may need more serious treatment. One that has shown promise: Treat poor memory with poor memory. For example, if your son forgets that three hours ago you asked him to take out the trash, you will forget what you asked. Was it to dry the dishes or take out the trash? Since you can’t recall, he will have to do both, just to cover all the bases. If he has memory lapses — and he’s young and healthy — how can he expect his mother to remember everything?
At this point, most kids will instantly recall what you asked. (It’s a miracle!) Nevertheless, it’s too late: This time around, there are added duties or consequences for ignoring you. As your son is held accountable for his forgetfulness, his memory skills should improve radically.
What if your son truly forgets? Sometimes he will. It’s a psychological axiom that humans — little and big — often forget what they don’t want to remember. Nevertheless, your intent is to teach your son to remember his responsibilities — whether he wants to or not.
Dr. Ray Guarendi is a clinical psychologist, speaker, author and EWTN TV host.