What Kids Need to Know About Their Working Memory | Deborah Farmer Kris | 5 Min Read

Have you ever walked into the kitchen to get something, only to have your mind forget what? Or left the grocery store with everything on your mental list except the one thing you really needed for dinner?

Every day, we encounter the limitations of our working memory. 

When your kids forget to brush their teeth or turn in their homework (that is sitting completed in their backpack), they are facing the same challenge. The answer is not lecturing, bribing, or berating; it’s helping kids understand their working memory and then build routines and workarounds to address its inherent limits. 

What is Working Memory?

Working memory is basically a temporary holding area for our thoughts while we are using them. It’s also where we hold new information that comes at us — data that may or may not eventually find its way into our long-term memory. 

Barbara Oakley, author of “Learning How to Learn: How to Succeed in School Without Spending All Your Time Studying” describes working memory as an octopus sitting in our prefrontal cortex, juggling a set of balls. It can hold about four “balls” at once before they start dropping. As she told me in…

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Deborah Farmer Kris

A writer, teacher, parent, and child development expert, Deborah Farmer Kris writes regularly for PBS KIDS for Parents and NPR’s MindShift; her work has been featured several times in The Washington Post; and she is the author of the All the Time picture book series (coming out in 2022) focused on social-emotional growth. A popular speaker, Deborah has a B.A. in English, a B.S. in Education, and an M.Ed. in Counseling Psychology. Mostly, she loves finding and sharing nuggets of practical wisdom that can help kids and families thrive — including her own. You can follow her on Twitter @dfkris, contact her at [email protected], or visit her website: Parenthood365 (https://www.parenthood365.com/)