When Children Lose Belongings at School

What do you do when every day your child comes home from school without one or two of their belongings? One day it is their lunch box, the next day it’s their jacket or the shoes for PE. Is forgetting things simply a natural part of childhood – or does your child specifically have a problem with keeping up with their stuff? Not only can lost belongs end up costing you quite a bit of money in the long run but it is also extremely frustrating and inconvenient. So what do you do when children lose belongings at school? Should you punish the child, or should you refuse to replace the items – especially when it happens constantly?

Obviously, age plays a roll in how well your child remembers their stuff. As early as the pre-elementary years, educators work hard to teach children about responsibility. Keeping up with crayons and having their scissors every day, as well as turning in homework is an important part of the educational process. And parents need to reinforce this at home. From as young as 2, parents need to start teaching kids the importance of being responsible for their belongings. If they constantly leave their beloved baby doll or favorite blankie in random places and then get hysterical about it later, eventually parents need to find the lesson in this behavior. If you frantically look for the lost item and then find it for them every time, you could potentially be responsible for your child losing their belongings. After all, if you find the items for them time and time again – then your child never sees the importance of keeping up with their own belongings and this can be exasperated once they reach school.

Experts also agree that a child, who loses things constantly, may have a learning problem or disorder such as ADD or ADHD. If you notice that they are flighty or disorganized in other aspects of their life, and constantly lose things – talking to your pediatrician may be a good idea.

Truth is, that most kids lose things from time to time. Why else would the lost and found at so many public schools be packed to the gills with belongings? If it becomes a habit with your child then you need to think about helping them learn structure and organizational skills at home. The following tips can help you to help your child remember that winter coat or homework folder.

  • Learn how their school day works! Where do they go during the course of the day? Have a quick chat with your child’s teacher so that you understand the routine of their school day. This way, you can talk your child through their day and give them reminders before they go to school. For instance, remind them to look for their lunchbox BEFORE leaving the cafeteria, and to look for their jacket BEFORE they leave school each day. The more you talk about the routine at home the easier it will be for your child to remember.
  • Only allow your child to bring the necessities to school. If your child has a knack for losing things then don’t give them extra stuff to take to the school. Instead of using a fancy lunchbox, send their lunch in a paper sack. Instead of allowing them to take their personalized water bottle, purchase disposable ones. And instead of purchasing a North Face jacket that costs a lot of money – purchase instead a jacket that is second hand or from a discount school. This not only gives them less to keep up with, but also keeps the costs down when they do lose things.
  • Label everything they own. Even if you decide to find the most unique items for your child, chances are that another kid at school will have the same jacket or water bottle. Use a sharpie marker to label any and every thing that is not attached to your child’s body during the day. This gives you a better chance of having the item returned should it be left, and helps your child identify their stuff.
  • Make a checklist. On the front of their binder, you can start out by writing down a simple bulleted list of items in BOLD that your child has to remember to bring home on a daily basis. This can be an easy way for them to double check before they leave the building every day. Also, reinforce the list by keeping it at home somewhere. If you are trying to rehabilitate a child who constantly loses things – then setting up a reward system for things remembered each day is a great idea.
  • Be proactive in looking for your child’s belongings. In other words, when your child goes to school in the morning and its cold but its warm by the time they get home – they may have easily forgot about their winter coat. And you can too! Make it an after school routine to go through your child’s belongings every day to ensure that everything they brought to school has been brought back home. Did they forget their pencil box? Did they leave their gym shoes at school? That way, you know what is lost (and when it was lost) and they can look for the items right away which heightens the chance that the lost items will be found.
  • Check the lost and found! Do not depend upon your child to thoroughly check the lost and found, especially if they are elementary school age. After all, if they cannot remember their items they probably will not remember an extra task. Take a minute to check the lost and found yourself to see if any of the lost items are there. You might be quite surprised at how many things you WILL find were sent to the lost and found. Just do it in a timely manner, because most school systems only keep items so long before donating them to a shelter or charity.

In the end, remember that it truly is YOUR CHILD’S responsibility to keep up with their stuff. Not only should you teach them how to keep up with belongings at school, but you should do so at home as well. And, if despite your best efforts, your child continues to lose things resort to NOT replacing them or making your child earn the money to replace the things they have lost on their own.



4 Responses

  1. This article concerns a child. What if the person in question is a teenager? My 16 year old son has a long history of losing clothing, keys, cell phones ( he has also caused damage to his cell phone by sleeping with it under his pillow and dropping it in the toilet). I have cut him off from getting another cell phone. He has also misplaced musical instruments and items on school field trips ( left in hotel room). This is not because he forgot to pack them. He chose to be mindless about them. The school trip incident happened when he was a pre-teen and this is still going on today. He almost left behind several items in a hotel room in Montreal very recently. Today he lost his camera for his photography course. His Dad gave him the camera and asked him to simply take good care of it. The subject never came up of how to make sure he doesn’t lose it or damage it. I found out from him that he left his backpack unattended yesterday. He refuses to take responsibility for his possessions. I am very frustrated. He also has been diagnosed with HFA. To me this is very low functioning behavior.

    1. as a 19-year old with ADD who forgets things (but mostly at home when leaving), I think a diary/agenda or a checklist would help, but it depends. he should definitely have a cell phone at that age, one with a note-taking ability for him to mark everything down… that is, if he himself wants to improve, he’s gotta have willpower to get better at keeping track of things.

  2. I wouldn’t say that your son “refuses” to take care of his stuff. Children with ADHD or learning about disabilities don’t learn how to keep track of their stuff like other kids do. What works for most children will not work for your son. Your son needs to figure out a system that works for him. You need to help him do that. Getting mad at him will not help. It will create an over-sensitivity to criticism and lower his self-esteem. These will in turn magnify ADHD symptoms.

    Get creative. Research the problem. Design a solution. Keep tweaking. Be patient. Empathize. It’s frustrating but if you slow down to solve it correctly the number of occurrences will decline. Oftentimes, people tell folks with ADHD to try harder. We are already trying harder than everyone else, that’s not helpful advice, rather, it makes us feel damaged. The issue is that we are doing it wrong- we are doing it wrong because your way of doing doesn’t work for us.

    Take him to an ADHD coach ASAP so he can get help from a professional.

  3. I think it’s worth bearing in mind that a child “losing” possessions in school or other social situations can be a symptom of bullying. I’m not implying that this is the case for every child but it is certainly the case that sometimes when a child is being bullied and the bully takes their possessions, the child will claim to have lost it to avoid dealing with the situation.

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