Many parents know that their child has problems with organization. Some days, it probably feels as though some really bad magic spells have been worked in your household, resulting in things being lost, late, and left behind. The “curse of disorganization” shows up in messy bedrooms, homework that gets done but not turned in, disappearing library books, and 2- or 3-week projects that are magically due tomorrow! Binders where nothing is fastened to the rings. Backpacks with papers crumpled in the bottom and notices hiding in secret pockets.
Sound like your house? I’ll bet you can think of another half dozen exasperating things your disorganized child has done, or does on a regular basis.
How to help? Most parents have learned better skills for organization—if only to survive being parents—and would love to help their children.
Remember, you are the expert on your child. Try these three not-very-magical steps to set the stage for a more organized, less frustrating experience:
- Pick three or four behaviors that have the biggest consequences for school, such as turning in homework on time, keeping an agenda book up to date, and breaking down large assignments into smaller parts. Use the large white board (we talked about this in earlier blogs) as well as a monthly calendar, and write down the tasks to be worked on. Put the parts of larger assignments on specific calendar dates. Use a bright single color marker for both charts, for consistency. Plan to do this for several months, until these few tasks become automatic. Clear out and organize your child’s binder when you start this new system, if the binder is currently a mess, and ask his or her teacher what method of organization is preferred. Be sure to leave space on the white board to note when your child completes each task.
- For behaviors that are annoying but that don’t have a big impact on school, such as forgetting library books, gym sneakers, mittens or lunch, practice what we psychologists call “natural consequences”—letting the items stay at home, and letting your child deal with the consequences. Offer to put a basket by the front door, as a reminder to take them to school, but don’t bail your child out.
- Talk the talk, then walk the walk. Your child needs to “buy in” to the idea that there is a problem, and agree to work on it. Talk about what you see, then let him help you make a list of problems that result from disorganization. Let him choose the ones to work on first. Notice what gets done. Put stars or check marks on the calendar and white board.
Let your child know how proud you are when he succeeds. High fives all around! You can change the tasks to work on as your child is successful. Whatever is practiced will get better, so start with a few and keep going.
Good luck, and please add your comments or questions below.