Helping a kid who keeps losing things

December 20, 2011

Q. Our 11-year-old son, a sixth-grader, is transitioning from elementary school to middle school, and it isn’t easy.

He has a locker in the hallway, but he keeps losing things because he isn’t allowed to carry a backpack or a bag while he rushes to six classes in the course of the day. At this point he has lost one jacket, two copies of the same book and another book that he really wanted to read.

He is very upset after every loss and very sorry every time, but it keeps happening. Is it normal for an 11-year-old to lose so many things? He lost stuff for a while in elementary school, but the problem got better until he started middle school.

My husband and I want him to take better care of his possessions, so we decided that he should lose two days of video-game time every time he lost another item. Surely, we thought, this would have a big impact on him since he likes to play video games so much, but nothing changed. He still keeps losing things.

Incentives haven’t helped either. We told our son that he would get a prize if he didn’t lose anything for two whole weeks, but he lost something just four days later.


(Hadley Hooper/For The Washington Post)

We’ve also tried to coach him, telling him to look around his desk and beneath it to make sure that he isn’t leaving anything behind. Are we doing enough to help him? Or should all of the effort come from him? If it doesn’t, how will he ever learn to take care of himself? I sure can’t follow him around to see that he hangs on to his possessions.

A. You probably wouldn’t expect so much of your son if you knew that the lost-and-found baskets are overflowing in almost every middle school in the country.

No matter how hard they try, children in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades are quite likely to forget their books, their hats, their jackets and sometimes even their shoes. When one sixth-grader told his mother that he had lost one of his new sneakers, he then solemnly said, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ve got another one just like it.”

Your boy isn’t trying to be careless. He’s simply a bit overwhelmed — physically, psychologically and academically — because he is a changeling now, and it’s all he can do to get through the watershed years that we call “middle school” or “junior high.”

Not only is your son trying to master six subjects at once, but he is also dealing with complicated schedules, droning public-address announcements and a bell that rings all day long. At the same time he is learning how to handle the cliques and the bullies at his school, how to organize his time, how to get better in soccer, how to make friends with the new kids down the block, and how to talk with his buddy who is getting more interested in girls than in video games.

With all of these issues to worry about, it’s a wonder that your son hasn’t lost two or three jackets and a whole shelf of books. By the end of the year, however, he probably will unless you don’t give him a little help for a while.

He’ll keep track of his possessions better if you ask him to check the lost-and-found whenever he loses anything. Since he probably won’t remember to do that, you’d be smart to check it, too. Failing that, you might ask someone at school to bring the lost-and-found basket to the monthly PTA meetings. It may even encourage more parents to attend.

You also might go to www.labelyourstuff.com and order 50 cloth labels with your son’s name and address printed on them for $10.95 and then iron the labels onto his clothes and glue them inside his books, his belt, his boots and his shoes. This is a bother, but you can do the job in a couple of hours if your son helps you. Think of it as part of his penance.

Once you have the name tags in place, people you don’t even know will leave your son’s things on your doorstep, which will be a whole lot cheaper than replacing his wardrobe, bit by bit.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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