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  • Is Your Child Forgetful? 7 Signs His Working Memory Needs Help

    Children need to master the ability to use their working memory to perform well in school.
    by Rachel Perez .
Is Your Child Forgetful? 7 Signs His Working Memory Needs Help
  • Does your child get easily distracted? When working with one task, does he forget to go back to what he was doing because a TV ad or a song got his attention? We know toddlers get distracted quickly, but that also means we need to foster his working memory.

    According to Understood.org, a non-profit organization that provides support for parents of kids with learning and attention issues, working memory is our ability to retain information for a few seconds — like a mental note if you will — so we can do something else momentarily without losing sight of what we were doing beforehand. It is a mental skill we need to learn and perform basic tasks. 

    Working memory lets kids perform well in school. It helps him follow multi-step instructions or solve a math problem. Kids with learning and attention issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have working memory issues. But not all kids with working memory problems end up having attention disorders.

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    Signs your toddler's working memory needs a boost

    Kid Sense Child Development, an organization that provides services to children with developmental challenges in Adelaide, South Australia, listed down a list of red flags to help identify whether your child has working memory issues or not. If you notice more than one of these signs in your toddler, consult with your pediatrician (click here for our directory on developmental pedias). 

    • Your child has difficulty organizing and completing multiple steps or tasks.
    • Your child often misses details in a string of instructions.
    • Your child is easily distracted when not highly interested in an activity.
    • Your child finds it difficult to wait for his turn and often interrupts conversations.
    • Your child loses his belongings quickly, forgets where he puts things or when he last used it.
    • Your child has difficulty doing simple math in his head and problem-solving challenges.
    • Your child has difficulty starting or completing his work independently like keeping track of his homework.

    How to improve your toddler's working memory

    Children as young as age 2 or 3 can already exercise and hone their working memory — there's no better time to do so and the earlier, the better. Below are some of working memory boosters to help your child.

    1. Create routines.

    "When we're able to automate a task, it no longer requires working memory to function. Remembering what to do next takes up cognitive workspace — and that's not necessary," education specialist Linda Hecker, MEd, tells The Child Mind Institute on how routines help.

    You can start with a bedtime routine, for example, one that includes personal hygiene activities like brushing his teeth. You can also incorporate age-appropriate chores as part of a routine your toddler needs to get used to.

    Remember that routines should be consistent, but it may take a while to find and build habits that work. Toddlers also need time to get used to the routine, so don't expect them to get it after the first time you instruct them how to go about it. Using visual clues, such as a chart with drawings or sticky notes, may help your tot remember.

    2. Visualize with your child.

    Ask your child to imagine a picture, a scenario, or a memory in his head and either have him tell you the details or let him draw it on paper.

    "As he gets better at visualizing, he can describe the image to you instead of needing to draw it," shares Amanda Morin, author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education, with Understood.org.

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    You can also try to have him explain how something works or narrate you about his day in playschool or his trip to the playground.

    Games that work a child's visualization skills also help. It could be as simple as taking turns on reading car license plates and then saying them backward. Playing cards games, like Uno and Go Fish also work well in honing working memory.

    3. Read, read, read.

    Reading books with your child is a gold mine for imparting lessons, learning skills like creativity, and relationship building. When you do a read-aloud, or you read a book together, he is bound to ask questions or express his emotions — encourage him! This back-and-forth conversation, called dialogic reading, helps them better retain information. Letting tots draw something about the book's theme or topic works, too.

    When your child is older and has moved on to chapter books, get him into the habit of active reading. It's reading but also writing short sentences about the chapter he just read. It can be notes or illustrations about a particular part that struck him the most. It will help him remember the story and help form long-term memories.

    4. Break down information and make connections.

    Try not to give your toddler a string of instructions all in one breath. It'll be easier for your little one to remember simple instructions using clear, concise words. Morin suggests this tactic also applies when encouraging your child to remember things by breaking them down into little chunks, like how phone numbers have hyphens in them. It could be a visual connection like how a clock is like pizza or a play on words such as using ROYGBIV to remember the colors of the rainbow.


    5. Let kids play.

    Neurologist Judy Willis explained on Psychology Today that high-pressure situation is not conducive to learning — kids (and we have to say grown-ups, too) learn best through play. They can better process and retain new information when all their senses are involved and excited. Without play, learning can become stressful for kids. Willis suggests that kids get to do "enjoyable rituals (favorite songs, card games, ball toss) or surprises (a fun picture downloaded and printed from the internet) before study time to de-stress the study experience and open up the brain networks that lead to memory storage."

    6. Serve your child brain-boosting foods.

    It's often not the first thing that comes to mind, but nutrition also plays a large role in a child's cognitive development. Good brain food boosts brain functions, memory, and concentration. It's not rocket science to know that empty calories may add pounds to your child's weight but does nothing to nourish his brain. Foods like fish, nuts, oats, fruits, vegetables are your best bet when it comes to improving brain functions.

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