This has been particularly frustrating when it comes to his having to keep track of his belongings at school. One day, he actually came home with nothing in his bag. Empty. No tiffins, no water bottle, no napkin, no book. Nothing. How is that even possible? Did he not notice that his bag was impossibly light? Apparently not.
I haven't kept count but conservatively speaking, he has lost at least 8 water bottles this academic year and a competing number of tiffin boxes. I have also had to cough up money to the library for a couple of borrowed books that went to school with him and never came back. The number of items lost would actually have been substantially higher if he hadn't brought some of the forgotten stuff back the next day but some of them just seemed to have disappeared into a black hole, never to be seen again.
I tried a variety of approaches to get him to remember to pack all his stuff when he was leaving school:
- At his Bombay school, his teacher asked us to let him pack his own bag. The thinking was that if he was the one to put things in, he would remember to bring them back as well. The only difference this made was the added stress of ensuring that he remembered to put all the requisite items into his bag every morning!
- I tried the guilt angle that comes so easy to us mothers. I gave him lines like 'Do you know how much money I have spent on your water bottles in the last few months?' and 'I have so much to do today and now I have to go and buy you a new bottle for school tomorrow because you lost your original bottle and the extra bottle this week.' To no effect.
- I scolded him every time he forgot something. The only difference this strategy made was making his homecoming more unpleasant.
- I went with the punitive approach for a while. I told him he wasn't allowed to take a book to school with him for a week every time he lost something. This meant that he went for months without a book in his schoolbag. Eventually, we got called in to school for some behavioural issues and it turned out that the book was his refuge when he needed to retreat from the over-stimulation of the classroom. Sigh. So yeah, the books are back in his bag.
- I tried the materialistic approach - taking five rupees from his piggy back every time he lost something. This only made me feel like a regular grinch and things kept not making their way back home regardless of potential money loss.
Then one day, I had an epiphany. I love lists. I cannot function without lists. I am in awe of people who walk into grocery stores with a list that is entirely inside their heads. And people who can throw things into a suitcase without one. Or cook without a recipe, for that matter. And given that he is my son, maybe this would be something that would work with him too. So here's what went on his bag a few weeks ago.
For the first week or so, there was almost no change. But I stuck it out and every morning when he left home, I would remind him to check his list before he left school for the day. And you know what, it is starting to work. We still have days when something or the other has been forgotten at school but the frequency of these incidents has come down dramatically.
Like the saying goes, 'if at first you don't succeed, try try try again'. Applies to parenting as much as anything else.