Start your free 7-day Joon App trial
Child Development

How To Improve Poor Working Memory In Your Child

December 20, 2022
Table of Contents

    Kids with poor working memory may struggle with organization, planning, and daily tasks. If your child has difficulty in these areas, you're not alone. Issues with working memory are common in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, there are ways to improve working memory skills.

    In this article, we'll go over what working memory is, how ADHD affects working memory, and tips you can use to help your child with working memory. For example, playing games, visualization, and active reading. Then, we'll discuss when and how to seek professional care for working memory issues in children and how Joon can help your child.

    Struggling to motivate your child?
    Download the Joon App and start your free 7-day trial.  
    Download App

    What Is Working Memory?

    There are different types of memory. Most people understand the variations between long-term memory and short-term memory and the role each has in storing new and old memories. Working memory is an executive function that helps us remember, use, and process information on a daily basis. It refers to the ability to remember small amounts of information that can be "held" in the mind temporarily and used to execute tasks - something that is not easy for many people with ADHD.

    Examples of working memory tasks include:

    • Recalling the steps involved to complete a math problem.
    • Remembering what you are there to purchase when you go to the store. 
    • Holding a phone number or address in the mind while waiting for someone to finish speaking.
    • Retaining numbers on license plates while you pay for parking.

    Working memory has more of an impact on academic performance than short-term memory or IQ level does. You may notice poor working memory in children when asking a child to complete seemingly simple tasks at home or when challenges with school achievement begin.

    How Does ADHD Impact Memory?

    Evidence shows that people with ADHD have deficits in working memory. In fact, extensive research shows that very substantial impairments in central executive working memory are present in most children with ADHD. Kids who struggle with working memory problems are not being defiant. Instead, working memory challenges are marked by brain differences and are not the fault of the child.

    Working memory difficulties can make a large variety of daily activities harder. A child might not answer direct questions, or they may find it tough to follow instructions or learn a new skill - even if other kids their age would not find the set of instructions or skill challenging. 

    With all of that said, there are things you can do to promote a child’s working memory skills and help them succeed. 

    Tips For Improving Working Memory Skills

    With ADHD, learning to work with your brain rather than against it is vital. Often, practice, stimulating activities, and external tools like visual cues help people with ADHD improve functioning issues, which may be affected by memory. 

    Here are some tips you can use as a parent to help your child with working memory skills. Bonus: Many of these double as fun activities for kids!

    Create routines

    Routine is crucial for people with ADHD for more than one reason, including accommodation for working memory capacity. When you create routines, you form habits. If something that needs to be done becomes habitual, it is less likely that you or your child will forget. A consistent morning routine, for example, can help your child remember to do things like brush their teeth, eat, and ensure they have school supplies before they head out the door.

    While routines are necessary, it can be hard to start them. External tools such as to-do lists, apps like Joon, and charts can help your child solidify new routines.

    How Joon Can Help

    Joon is a to-do app for kids with ADHD that doubles as a game. Parents sign up first and create a customized list of age-appropriate tasks for their children. Once the child finishes their tasks, also called quests, they get rewards that allow them to care for a virtual pet.

    90% of kids who use Joon complete all of the quests their parents assign. Using Joon can help kids with executive functioning issues build routines, increase independence, and complete everyday life activities. 

    Try Joon today for free. 

    Card games

    Card games utilize working memory. Playing card games with your child is an excellent way to boost working memory skills without it feeling "forced" or like a chore. Examples of card games to use include but aren't limited to Go Fish, Memory, or matching games (games where you match one card to another). Choose the card games you play with your child based on their age group and developmental level.

    Occupational therapists often use card games and other games to aid working memory. While you play, reduce background noise and limit distractions to help your child focus.

    Memory games

    Card games are just one example of memory games you can use for children to aid working memory. Like card games, board games promote working memory naturally, but there are also games used specifically for the purpose of aiding working memory capacity in kids.

    Examples of memory games for kids include:

    • The "magical cup" game. Put various small objects under three different cups. Instruct your child to watch as you drag the cups on the table with the objects underneath. Ask them to guess what object is under each cup once you're done moving them.
    • "Drum beats." Use a drum or a household object like an empty pot to make a beat, and ask the child to repeat it back to you.
    • Mad libs and other fill-in-the-blank games.

    You will notice that many memory games also promote concentration, making them a great fit for kids with ADHD. Some computer games, including digital versions of card or board games, can also be valuable for children.

    Try more visualization 

    If kids do not remember verbal cues or instructions well, it can be beneficial to utilize other senses. For example, sight. Visualization is often used as a part of working memory training. This is because visualization helps the brain create "links" or associations, which allows a child to connect information and decreases the working memory load required for tasks. Maps, graphs, pictures, or charts are all visual tools that a child can use to better process and remember what they learn.

    Visuals do not technically need to be tangible. Mental images - in other words, imagining a picture, chart, map, or graph to create associations - can be used, too.

    Use external reminders

    For those who demonstrate difficulties with working memory, using external tools such as sticky notes, lists, calendars, chore charts, apps, and alarms can be helpful. Like the use of visualization for learning, visual cues and other external reminders can aid people with working memory problems in remembering how or when to complete a specific task.

    Every person is unique, so it can take trial and error to find what works. Some people with working memory problems will benefit more from certain tools than others. Alarms and apps, for example, might be more effective for some kids.

    Note: Joon is a new app for kids with ADHD and their parents. Joon aids motivation, independence, and executive function. Backed by child psychologists, occupational therapists, and teachers, Joon is rated an average of 4.7 out of 5 stars in the app store.

    Click here to download Joon and start your 7-day free trial.

    Have your child try active reading

    Active reading is the process of engaging with reading material as you take it in. For example, highlighting passages with a marker, using sticky notes, or reading aloud. It's a tool people use from childhood through adulthood to retain important information, and it's something you may have done yourself. Encourage active reading to help your child remember what they learn, whether that's from a book, a reading packet from school, or another relevant source.

    This tip is not limited to printed books and physical handouts. If your child uses an e-reader or a similar device, there should be an option to highlight text digitally.

    Ask your child "teach" you what they learn

    You can help your child remember what they learn by asking them to walk you through it.

    For example, if your child is working on a math problem for school, you may ask them to teach you how to do it step by step. The goal of asking a child to do this is that they will repeat instructions and internalize them more effectively.

    Comparable to active reading, the added engagement with the material can aid working memory.

    Break tasks down to make them less complex

    Complicated tasks and tasks with multiple components can be both overwhelming and troublesome for people with working memory issues to execute. The smaller a piece of information it is, the easier it is to remember. Break tasks down into smaller steps to make them more manageable.

    To do this, you might write tasks out in numbered steps. For example:

    1. Put the clothes from the hamper into the washing machine.
    2. Turn the knob on the washing machine to "medium load."
    3. Find the soap bottle by the washing machine. Take the cap on the bottle and fill it to the line with soap.
    4. Pour the cap of soap into the washing machine.
    5. Press "start" on the washing machine.

    Be patient with your child and use specific language when you provide instructions. Don't hesitate to repeat instructions if needed. Similarly, if there's a string of information like a social security number the child needs to retain, help them learn by saying it aloud one piece at a time. 

    Seeking Help For Memory Problems In Kids

    If your child demonstrates difficulties with working memory, or if common working memory tasks and coping skills do not appear to help your child, you likely want peace of mind.

    ADHD may be why a child is easily distracted or seems to lose track while completing tasks. There are other potential causes, too, which you may want to rule out.

    Various professionals can help working memory in children. A tutor, coach, or occupational therapist who specializes in ADHD or another condition that affects your child can be helpful for kids who have working memory deficits. Accommodations at school via a 504 plan may also benefit your child if applicable.

    Teaching your child coping strategies and tools that aid working memory now has long-term benefits. If you use strategies to help children remember now, they will have those strategies once they enter their teen or adult years.


    Poor working memory is an issue for many people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conditions, such as learning disabilities. There are numerous activities that promote working memory in children, such as working memory games. People with working memory difficulties can benefit from the use of external tools and coping strategies that help them retain important pieces of information. When you teach children skills that aid working memory, it sets them up for ongoing success.

    If your child faces challenges related to weak working memory or short-term memory, talk with a medical professional who can help you determine the cause and recommend tailored support for your child.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.


    Sarah Schulze MSN, APRN, CPNP

    Sarah is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with a specialty certification in pediatric mental health. She works at a clinic in Champaign Illinois, providing care to children and adolescents with mental health disorders. She obtained her bachelor's in nursing from Indiana State University in 2011 and completed her master's in nursing from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014. She is passionate about helping children create a solid foundation on which they can grow into healthy adults.