Leaving School Without Packing Backpack

Develop Inhibition Skills

Use a Carabiner or Other Hook on Backpack

You may notice that your child comes home at the end of the school day without his homework packed. When the teacher says, “Class dismissed,” he runs to his cubby to grab his backpack and then rushes out the door — without having gathered his homework folder and books. As a result, he can’t do his homework, falls behind in class, and frequently loses things.

Many school-age children occasionally come home without everything they need for homework and studying. But as children get older they learn to stop and think before running out the door. If your child chronically grabs-and-goes, this could indicate a stop-and-think problem — your child is struggling to develop inhibition skills.

Inhibition is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us effectively execute daily tasks.

Solution: Forced Stop and Think Moment

There are so many popular hooks and straps that kids like using today—try using one of these devices to stop a backpack from being grabbed from a locker or cubby. The objective is to interrupt your child’s grab-and-go pattern by inserting a pause in routine that puts the brakes on your child. This can be done by using a ready-made bungee cord with two carabiner hooks on either end; one hook goes on his backpack loop, the other goes on the loop of a bag that stays in his locker (maybe containing backup sneakers). Although your child will hang his backpack on the standard locker hook, he’ll have to attach and, at the end of the day, de-attach the carabiner hook that goes on his backpack loop. This inhibits his impulse. He is forced to stop, and the cue of releasing his bag will refocus him on why he must stop.

Another option: a swivel eye snap hook, which will fit into the zipper hole of a backpack, can then be attached to a backpack’s own top loop by way of a strap. Opening the swivel hook to use the zipper forces a pause to help a child think about putting everything he needs into his backpack. This strategy can work for a sports bag, to cue a child who leaves his water bottle or equipment on the field.

Over time, the forced stop will reinforce a new stop-and-think habit, and a child will no longer need a rigged measure.

Don’t do this: Tell your child to remember his books — or his soccer ball and water bottle when he leaves the field, or his clothes at his friend’s house when he packs his bag for a sleepover.

Try this instead: Find a way to interrupt his grab-and-go impulse with a hook-and-strap solution for a backpack or sports bag. If he’s at a sleepover, he might ask to put his bag in his friends’ closet — any out of the way place might add a helpful extra step.

Remember: Your child is not being irresponsible by grabbing his bag without filling it with what he needs. He just needs help putting on the brakes.

It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.

Girl and boy smiling

What to Expect

You and your child or adolescent will meet with a pediatric neuropsychologist for approximately one hour. 

Teenage boy smiling

Executive Function Interventions

These interventions aim to create new habits that can sidestep or override a child’s cognitive challenges.

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