It sounds like this has become your problem rather than the children's since you're doing all the work to find their lost items. Although it may take a while for the message to sink in, I think it's time to let the kids know you're giving the problem back to them.
Start with a problem-solving session with the children, asking them to generate ideas about how they can prevent things from getting lost in the first place. For example, having a coat and hat rack and a shoe tray right by the front door might help, along with a new habit of taking shoes and outerwear off the minute they come in the door. Homework could go into an in-and-out basket right next to the place they usually do their work. Your job, at least for a while, could be to check right after they come home and again at bedtime to see that important items are in the right place -? letting the kids know, of course, that you appreciate the new habits they're developing.
When things still get lost, as they're bound to do sometimes, don't step in and rescue the kids by searching for the items yourself. Instead, coach the children by asking questions: Where were you when you last remember having it? Did you have it when you came home from school? Where did you go next? Then let the kids do the legwork of searching in likely places--or, for your younger child, work together. Over time, the children will learn to ask themselves the same questions to narrow down their search, rather than frantically and randomly looking all over the house.
Finally, be sure to notice when the kids are not losing things. Let them know you're proud of them, but also point out that it makes their life easier: "You're keeping your things very well-organized lately. That must feel good to you."
Come to think of it, my husband spends a whole lot of time looking for lost keys and glasses. Maybe some of these strategies will work for him too!
Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.