‘‘What do you mean you don’t know where your new shoes are? You haven’t even had them for a week!” I screamed as steam simmered out of my ears.
Did I lose my temper in that moment? Yes. Did I feel badly about it? A little. I was furious that my daughter had no idea where her sneakers were. She went to the store yesterday with them on, but now she had no idea where they were. It is so frustrating to have something you pay money for vanish into thin air. I also discovered they were missing two minutes before we needed to go to school.
My behavior was definitely overblown as a reaction to a five year old losing a material item (I know, it’s just stuff!), but I also know that if she does not learn that this is a big deal, how will she ever learn responsibility for her belongings and the value of a dollar? I joked that she would have to earn the money for new shoes. The look I got in return meant it was time to explore the ways to teach her responsibility so that I do not have to experience that stressful scene again.
Are my expectations too high? Dr. Donna Fargason of Family Focus & Associates explains, “Children can misplace things for a lot of reasons. When a child is anxious or distracted, the brain can get a little fuzzy and make it hard to think about where items are being set down. When children are rushing, they are not paying attention to where they place things, and sometimes, children misplace things because they are inattentive and might have an attention problem that ends up being long-standing. It’s hard to know when kids are little so it’s worth trying to establish homes for items and instruct children to place items in their ‘homes.’”
Some children can continue to lose items up to age six. When they enter elementary school, they begin to take on more responsibility and understand consequences for their actions. Set rules about which items you will replace, how many times you will replace them, and any sacrifices they will have to make such as doing chores to “earn” things or giving up certain privileges like screen time.
Some kids may be naturally organized, but for the most part, it is up to us to teach them how to keep track of their things and to realize the importance of responsibility.
Here are some practical ways to help children keep better track of their belongings.
- Set reminders based on their schedule. Talk to your children about their schedules and point out important actions to take throughout the day, such as putting their lunchboxes back into their backpacks after their lunch period, putting their clothes in their backpacks after a swim lesson, and keeping track of their water bottles throughout the day. Ask them to double check that they have all their belongings before they leave school at the end of the day. Forming these habits based on a consistent routine can be very effective and used in many other situations down the road.
- Label everything. Although it is a time investment up front, labeling your children’s belongings provides an insurance policy in case they do forget or misplace something. Simply use a permanent marker or purchase some labels online.
- Make a checklist. Work with your children to write a list of their key belongings—such as a lunchbox, sweatshirt, homework folder—that they need to make sure they have before they leave the house in the morning and before they come home at the end of the day. Review this list with them until it is ingrained in their memory.
- Prompt them with specific questions. Be proactive by asking them questions based on the checklist you created. “Do you have your homework folder and lunchbox for the day? Don’t forget to put them in your backpack when you are not using them.” Eventually, they will hear your questions enough that they will come up with them on their own.
Lessons For A Lifetime
My daughter losing her new sneakers prompted some important lessons that she can carry with her for a lifetime. Although I did not handle the moment as calmly as I should have, my daughter got the message that she was irresponsible and her actions had consequences. My daughter needed to understand that I was not going to hop on Amazon and re-order those same shoes just because she loved them. And when I asked her how she was going to earn the money to order new shoes, she realized that so much of what she has and loves costs money, and that needs to be earned by hard work.
I knew that if I simply “came to the rescue,” my daughter would grow up with an entitled expectation. Entitled children grow up feeling privileged because their parents believe that they should be happy all the time and never face consequences for their actions. However, to help keep this from happening, parents are encouraged to set rules and let the children earn the items back.
Dr. Fargason says, “There are a lot of strategies for helping children establish neatness behaviors. One strategy I found especially helpful was to pick up all of the left out items and put them in a bag and the items had to be earned back by chores or payment.”
I am trying to raise responsible children who understand that there are consequences for their actions. This means my children won’t always be completely happy. They won't automatically get things just because they want them. It’s not just that I want my kids to be responsible for materials things; responsibility impacts so many aspects of their lives. If they learn to take care of their own toys and clothes now, then they will respect other people and their stuff, too. They will grasp the value of working hard to be able to pay for things, which will help them to manage their time and money more wisely. They will also begin to see the importance of helping people who do not have nearly as much as they do. Finally, they will feel empowered and develop self-esteem because they have control over their own behavior, which can help them achieve their goals and desires throughout life.
I am happy to report that we found the sneakers buried in a toy box. But now, my son lost his sweatshirt… ■