Losing the plot over lost property

DO you remember Bagpuss? And how he lived in a magic shop full of lost things? There must be somewhere out there piled high with my children’s belongings.

I don’t know if your offspring are similarly absent-minded, or whether it’s a second-child thing, but over the last 12 months alone, our almost-13-year-old-old son has managed to ‘mislay’ three coats, two pairs of shorts, a mobile phone, school shirts, two pairs of school trousers, a tie, trainers, his watch, a memory stick, three keys, a rucksack, countless woolly hats and gloves, several socks (mostly expensive sports-related ones) and my complete trust in his common sense.

This is not a new mystic ability of his, the vanishing trick. Just about every parents’ evening we’ve attended has involved the sentence: “Dougie does tend to leave things behind quite a lot . . .”

I certainly don’t think he does it intentionally, or simply doesn’t understand the value of things. He’s also not the only one to have lost things – but he is worryingly consistent at it. We were temporarily concerned that maybe he was getting bullied and having things stolen from him, but that wasn’t the case. He just forgets.

He absolutely hates being told off about it, and is always mortified at having to own up to the latest ‘lost’ item and he knows it upsets us. He gets really frustrated and angry with himself and then the following day forgets something else and then is worried to admit it’s gone. He says he gets distracted by the next thing he’s meant to be doing and forgets to pick things up.

It feels like we’ve tried everything: nametags in everything, checklists, alarms – nothing seems to work.  We really don’t want to keep ‘punishing’ him over his absent-mindedness, but in the heat of the moment, I’m fairly liberal with my withdrawal of pocket money, Xbox privileges and later bedtimes. I’ve even made him buy replacements with his own money.

It’s hard, because if you simply ignore it and replace the items without consequences it feels like he won’t learn to be responsible for himself, and that’s not a great thing for a teenager.

Yet if he continually gets told off, he’ll be too worried to tell us, and will lie about it, which will make everything worse – and harder to retrieve that bag left on the bus, or coat in the cinema.

I read an interesting blog about an adult who simply couldn’t keep track of their belongings. They’d been constantly told off about it by their frustrated parents as a child, but despite stress and upset, still forgot. And as an adult, that meant leaving expensive coats, car fuel caps, handbags, wallets, laptops, work documents and house keys.

The only way she coped was by training herself not to put things down randomly: everything had to have a place she would notice on leaving. And that included wrapping handbag handles around her leg in restaurants, putting keys straight into pockets and jackets across her lap, not on chairs or coathooks.

I try to train our forgetful boy to keep everything in a rucksack, and that a removed coat or hoodie goes in the bag straight away. He went to the cinema with friends last weekend, and had already walked into town, had a burger and walked halfway home before he remembered he’d left his rucksack somewhere. I made him walk back to the cinema each day, and ask at the police station.

It’s still missing .  . .

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