Son Not Completing Jobs

Updated on January 14, 2010
P.F. asks from Libertyville, IL
13 answers

My son seems to be very forgetful. He will start pretty much any job and not complete it to the end. IE, he will feed the cats but completely forget to give them water. He will take his homework out of his backpack but leave his lunch box in it. I feel like I am constantly hounding him to finish jobs. We have tried rewarding completed jobs, consequences for jobs half done and even silly comments and nothing works to get him to realize he isn't done. No, he doesn't have ADD. He is honestly like the forgetful scientist. He seems oblivious to the reality that the job is not done. Any ideas or tricks you have found helpful? I used to leave him notes for the steps of the jobs but he is oblivious to the notes. He just doesn't see them.

EDIT: He is ten years old. In fifth grade and getting ready for middle school. He has to learn to be more responsible or next year is going to be a mess with changing classrooms and leaving things behind.

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So What Happened?

Thanks to all for the great responses. Unfortunately, we have tried all of these strategies to no avail. We have a new one now that I am trying. He has a notebook that stays on the kitchen table. Every time he does a job halfway he has to write the steps to doing that job all the way through. I check over the steps to make sure nothing is missing. Then every time he does that job he has to go read the list outloud before he can do it. When he does that specific job five times in a row completely we tear the sheet out and he no longer has to read it aloud. I don't know if it will work but I am all about teaching him to solve this problem not just punish. Check lists don't work because they are not specific enough :) Thanks to all though, I do appreciate the ideas.

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answers from Peoria on

You mention you have tried notes, and he is oblivious, so how about a chart? have him help you make it and post it. outline each and every little step he has to do, since this seems to be the problem.
Each day he has to follow the chart, and mark it off. This gives him the chance and the responsibility to follow through.
Have him help you think of the reward for completing the chart weekly and the consequence for not. (extra video/computer time, new book, play on what he is most into....loss of those things for each day the chart isnt complete.)
post the reward and consequences with the chart....that way its visible daily!
Good Luck!

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answers from Chicago on

He's FOUR! The world is so exciting to him....Just help him finish the job and remind him that ..."...when you grows up you will be able to do it all to the finish.."
He should be getting positive attention for doing good things NOT the over emphasis on the negative to defeat his efforts...He's FOUR! What's the big deal? He's your son and you have a wonderful life...Relax and lighten up...Enjoy the fact that he is learning and even does the smelly job of feeding the cat...He is being cooperative now so build on that and do not tear him down....Maybe he needs more attention and a few minutes together taking a walk and asking about his day or reading together; it will help him feel valued and he'll try harder to meet your expectations...They are high for a four year old...
I have a master's in counseling taught elementary school for 36 years and have raised 3 wonderful productive adult including 2 boys who are brilliant...At four I was making sure they had many puzzles to play with and read lots of books to them and even wrote notes about what was for lunch and used easy workbooks to pre-teach them the basics of math and ABC's before they started school.
MY children were not perfect..they were accepted as children and now one is a millionaire and the other has advanced degrees in finance etc...YOur son will turn out fine without rigorous adherence to RULES and task completion at FOUR.
YOU have a great son and you are a good mom, MOM J

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on


I raised a son who was the same way at that age - and, sorry but could your son be using forgetfulness as an excuse? You know there's no physical or psychological reason; if you let him get by with it, it's not going to get any better - you'll have a 17 yr old who can't remember to put gas in his car or to study for finals. His high school teachers will not find his forgetfulness so endearing. You'll have a 21-yr-old who cannot 'remember' his girlfriend's birthday or Valentines day - do you think she'll find it cute? Then there's college and career....

Some people are just naturally 'forgetful' - but developing good habits now can only help him, not hurt.

You mentioned that you did try consequence - At 10 yrs old, there should be an equitable consequence to him for not finishing or forgetting tasks. For example, if he neglects to remove his lunchbox from his backpack (and it is neglect not forget) - leave it there and then wake him up earlier the next morning so he can clean out his lunchbox and pack his own lunch. Forgetting to give the cat water = a one page essay on the detrimental effects of going without water.

These are just little discrepancies and so the consequence should be little as well, but unpleasant enough to make him "remember" not to repeat it. Just verbally reminding him (nagging) is not enough to cause him to stop and think because nagging doesn't impact him personally enough. :-)

I know first hand how frustrating it can be - but stay on top of it....he will appreciate you for it one day.. you are not nagging, you are being a good mama!

best of luck,


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Sorry, but he has mild ADD. That is not ADHD & it sounds so slight that it's hard to detect. Let's face it, we all have some ADD tendencies on occasion, but his sounds pretty consistent. This does not mean medication or negative stereotypes. My neice was not diagnosed until she was 16 & her mother (my sister) until she was 53. They both suffer from the same proplem as your son; having difficulty staying on task. It's nothing to freak out about, you just need to use tools to help keep him on track. As you've discoverd yelling & nagging does not work, so try check lists & charts.



answers from Chicago on

I don't have any advice except keep after him. My daughter--same age--is just like this. And she has been evaluated...TWICE!! A sitter stays with the kids for 2 1/2 hours between my husband leaving for work and me getting home. If we are not here to hound, things just do not get done. And then the others figure they don't have to do anything either. The only thing docs agreed on is that her mind is always on what she wants to do. I was told to make lists, charts, etc. We have a list up, charts, stars, rewards. And we did try linking to allowance, which is why she doesn't get any. It is very frustrating. But if you have not tried the suggestions, give it a go. If you can, laminate the individual tasks and he can use a marker to check off. We are going to try the allowance thing again next month (she has to complete tasks for a full week to do this). She says she wants a Wii.



answers from Chicago on

The big question is how is he doing with completing tasks outside the house. If he is doing fine in school and other activities he is involved with, it is simple house distractions.

When he was younger I would give him a list and say once you have finished all these tasks. The day is yours. He would work quickly checking off the few things he had to do. There was also incentives if he did his chores well.

Remember he is a little man and some men have trouble following through with tasks they need to do around the house. Not all men but there are ones that have this problem their whole like.




answers from Chicago on

Does he get an allowance?

If so, have him earn his allowance by completing his household tasks. For every household task he fails to do, he is "docked pay". You can decide, maybe 25 cents for each job that he forgets to do.

Keep a running tally and at the end of the week when it is time to dole out the allowance, remind him that he forgot 5 times to finish jobs thus his allowance is reduced by $1.25.

You see, with this method there is no arguing over it. Chores = income. If he doesn't do it, he doesn't get paid. It's not like he can come back and say "Yes I did it". And, there's no need for you to get upset over it or nag. Simply do the chore and take the 'payment' for yourself.

If you don't like the idea of money (or if it doesn't work for him), use the concept of time. Since he is 10, I'm going to guess he likes screen time (computer time, video games, television watching). Use the 'time' as the 'currency', or in other words dock his screen time by 15 minutes for every job he fails to do.



answers from Chicago on

Sounds like everyone in my home. I decided after years of nagging that if the cat needs water I better get it to him myself. I of course still nag from time to time, but have elimnated it a lot. Sometimes we need to see what's important. If they try and truly space out then we forgive. It's not worth the fight sometimes. If it's hurting me and they don't care then I do it. I have come to see they do not do these things on purpose.Just enjoy your son every day. I miss my son in the service and my other son is in college.



answers from Chicago on

take pictures of him doing each part of the job, print those out and post them - either put velcro on them and the place you are posting them, or punch a hole in the top and have a hook for them to hang on. Then on the back of each one put a smiley sticker. When he does each part of the job he turns around the picture and knows he is done.

For my kids I am going to write out a list of the jobs and laminate it, they will check off them as they do them. They don't forget parts of jobs, just I hate reminding them.



answers from Chicago on

My son is 10 and does quite a few chores around the house. He does the same thing! It's almost funny- the thing with feeding the pets, but forgetting the water. Or unloading the dishwasher, but forgetting the silverware... I really don't think he is slacking off or trying to get out of work. I do believe he honestly forgets!

My theory is that his brain is growing so much right now, absorbing and processing so many things, etc. that when he isn't really focused specifically on something (especially a task like a chore, that is just routine and doesn't require the type of attention that something like a math problem would) his brain has just already shifted to something else before he finishes. From talking to other moms, it also seems like this happens more with boys, but that might just be my perception. I don't believe this forgetfulness automatically means he (or any other kid) has ADD. I think it is part of the growth process.

The easiest fix we've found for this is a list on the fridge. We have a morning list of things he has to do before leaving for school (brush teeth, hair, feed dogs & cats, don't forget bookbag, lunchbox, oboe, etc) and then another afterschool list (call mom,let dogs out, set up homework on kitchen table, get snack, etc.)

This might seem over-detailed- but because its just posted up there, he only has to remember ONE thing: GO READ THE LIST! If I am not home, he can refer to it immediately, if I am home, it means *I* am not nagging him to do something or telling him, etc. he is responsible for it himself.

We don't do checkmarks or anything like that- just the written list to read. It works for us- maybe it will work for you too!

For school, his teacher gave all of the kids assingment books, and that has helped a LOT. Everything he needs to do each day is written down, and a parent is supposed to initial it each evening. That way if he misses something, I can ask about it. Also, our school now has ALL classroom assignments and worksheets, etc. available online through their website. So forgetting a sheet or homework at school is NOT an excuse- we just download it!

I bet your school has something similar- if not, you should ask about it, because I bet money that your son is not the only forgetful 5th grader out there! :)



answers from Greensboro on

I have a blog with information regarding diet and behavioral interventions that help kids with primarily inattentive adhd. The URL is



answers from Chicago on

You don't mention how old your son is and depending on his age, this might just be normal development. My son is 9 almost 10 and has gotten much better with his task completion in the last year but still has some work to do. Meanwhile my daughter is 12 almost 13 and has grown out of this problem almost completely. Keep what you're doing; try adding a chart, etc. Also pick and choose your is the end of the world if he forgets about his lunch bag? He'll likely remember to get it out when it's time to pack it again. But the cat does need water so that's one he has to remember. How many times as adults do we forget some of the mundane tasks, lose our keys, etc.? Like most annoying things our children do, this too will pass. But definitely do what you can to help him through it and learn.



answers from Chicago on

You could start doing checklists with him. The main things like getting home from school, opening his backpack, getting out his homework, doing it, putting it back in -- then laminate it. Walk him through it a bunch until he's doing the checking.
Have one for night time, morning routines. See if that can help?
You could talk to a neurologist even if it's not due to a serious condtion, maybe get a referral for an OT to work with him on task completion--this could end up keeping him from doing well on a lot of things in life!!

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