“I Can’t Find It, Mom.”

We were setting up for a book fair last weekend and needed the lid to a plastic bin which is part of our display set up. I sent one of the boys to fetch it from the trailer. “It’s on the top shelf,” I said.

Understand: Our trailer only has three shelves, there was only one other thing on the shelf with this lid, and the object we needed was about three feet long and eighteen inches wide. It wasn’t small or hard to find.

Except when our son came back a few minutes later and reported, “I couldn’t find it, Dad.”

Sure enough, when I went out to the trailer myself, there it was – exactly as I’d described it.

Kids Can't Find Things

Melanie has a theory of this: When she sends someone on a finding errand, if that person doesn’t really believe the object is there, it’s likely they won’t find it. On the other hand, if they approach the search with the expectation that they’ll find it, they’re much more likely to be successful. Skepticism seems to blind them.

Boys all seem to go through this phase (it looks like our girls are heading there now). What can we do to help them overcome it?

Teach them how to look. Too often it seems our guys walk into the room, sweep their eyes around the table tops, and decide, “Not there.” It doesn’t occur to them to see if someone accidently put the mail on top of it, or if the object rolled off the table and may be on the floor next to it, or if it might be somewhere similar if not exactly where described (on the second shelf instead the top, maybe). Show them how to start where you expect it, then look under things, alongside, and in the vicinity. The ability to search for things is a life skill you can teach like anything else.

Encourage them to trust your directions. You wouldn’t send them looking for something you knew wasn’t there. Suggest that if they were trying to find something for themselves, they’d probably concentrate and really look; why not take that approach when they’re helping someone else?

Don’t accept a lazy attempt. Sometimes they don’t care whether the thing is found or not, as long as they get released from the task. In these cases, I’ll say, “Come on, I’ll go show you,” and take the youngster back to the place I sent him. “What’s that over there?” I’ll point out before picking it up, to let them see the thing is just where I told them. Making them “do it over” like this means they spend just as long on the task as they would have if they’d done it right the first time – in fact, it doubles the time for them.

Be humble, yourself. Be fair – sometimes the thing really isn’t there. Maybe somebody borrowed the book since we last saw it, or maybe big brother ate the last piece without asking (Warning: Do not ever eat the last piece of chocolate pie in our house. Yes, Mom wants it.), or we ourselves honestly forgot where we left it. Be willing to admit you were wrong, and apologize for doubting them when they say the object was missing.  (This possibility is a good reason to avoid being too sharp in your rebuke – take it more as an opportunity to teach, rather than a time for irritation. You won’t have to eat crow as often.)

And, remember, they’re going to grow out of this phase eventually. It seems to be at its worst when they’re in that 9-12 age range. Before you could send them to find five things and they’d be right back with them, now you send them to find the car keys and you find them a half hour later stumbling around the house clueless. It’s annoying, but it passes, thankfully!

Hal and Melanie SugarLoaf Web (c)2009Yours in the battle,

Hal & Melanie

Wondering what’s normal? Need encouragement in bringing up boys? Want to ask experienced parents all those questions you have? Join us for one of our LIVE webinar series – Boot Camp 9-12, for parents of nine to twelve year old boys, and Boyhood Boot Camp, for parents of boys up to nine. They’re great fun – and real help!