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Helping Kids Keep Tabs on Their Stuff

Beginning at around age 4 1/2, Susan Schrager Reddy's son, Kalen, couldn't seem to find anything by himself. "I was going crazy because he'd call me every 15 seconds to find his toys, clothes, or books," says Reddy, of Plantation, FL. Kalen is hardly alone: Many kids his age aimlessly hunt for an item, then claim emphatically that it's not there.

Are they easily distracted, disorganized, or just testing their ability to make you jump? Yes, yes, and yes. Here are ways to help preschoolers find their own stuff:

DEVELOP A SYSTEM

"Kalen was always looking for his karate outfit, even though it was always on the same shelf," says Reddy. "But it was near his Power Ranger costumes, and those would distract him."

Many kids are easily diverted this way, notes Sal Severe, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of How to Behave So Your Children Will Too. Help your child sort his things in a way that makes sense to him  -- and encourage him to put them back after he uses them, and you'll cut back on disorganization and distractions. For instance, you might keep his socks in a bottom drawer, pants in the drawer above, and shirts above that  -- in the same order they go on his body.

LABEL EVERYTHING

"Put a sticker on the possessions your child tends to misplace and then say, 'The star toys go in the star cubby, the circle things go in the circle cubby,'" suggests Severe. When Kalen reorganized his toys this way, says Reddy, the calls for his mom subsided.

AVOID POWER PLAYS

To head off power struggles, show your child that you're paying attention, but that you're not going to track down the item for him. "Ask questions like, 'Where is it usually?' but don't give suggestions, such as, 'Look under the bed, look in the closet,' since that's doing his thinking for him," says Severe.

BACKTRACK

Teach your child the art of retracing his steps, suggests Jody Johnston Pawel, author of The Parent's Toolshop: The Universal Blueprint for Building a Healthy Family. Prompt him to remember the last time he saw the missing item, including where, and what he was doing. You can also ask him to recall where he's already looked, so he doesn't search the same places again and again.

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