4 Ideas for Strengthening Your Child's Working Memory

June 08, 2018

Working memory is “ ...the ability to hold on to new information so we can turn around and use it in some way. Working memory allows us to hold information without losing track of what we’re doing.”Peg Rosen.

If you’ve ever gone to bed thinking “Oh right! I was going to do …. today.” You’ve experienced the effects of a poor working memory. If you’ve used a timer to remind you of cookies in the oven or stuck a sticky note to the door with a reminder - you’ve used tools to help you overcome working memory deficiencies. 

Forgetful or Disobedient?

When this happened to you, there probably wasn’t anyone chastising you for not getting ‘it’ done. 

However, your child has probably at some point ‘forgotten’ to do something and so you meted out consequences for their ‘forgetfulness’ which you saw as them being disobedient. 

Now, I’m not saying that kids are never disobedient, they are, however, disobedience is an issue that needs to be addressed differently than working memory issues. :)

Because your child is engaged in the task they are currently doing, they may actually not remember what you’ve asked them to do. 

For real. 

This has to do with their weak executive function skill: working memory. 

Frustrating for you because you feel like you’re constantly nagging them to do what you asked them to do. Frustrating for them because they actually did forget, but they’re being punished as if they’ve been disobedient. 

How can you help your child develop their working memory?

  1. Keep your instructions short and simple
  2. Have your child repeat the instruction back to you
  3. Have your child set an alarm to remind them to switch activities. (If setting an alarm on a device, change the label of the alarm to instructions of what to do when the alarm rings.) When the alarm rings, follow-up with your child to see if they have switched tasks. Not to nag, just to follow-up. ;)
  4. Offer encouragement when they make the switch prompted by the alarm. You could say something like “Hey! That’s great that you started your writing assignment when your alarm rang. That sure is helping build your working memory. Have you set the alarm for the activity you’ll do when you finish your 30 minutes of writing?” 

What support techniques have you used to help your child with their working memory?