Thursday, March 15, 2012

Keeping Kids Organized

It's ironic that this post comes late in the day on a week I've only blogged once. Apparently I need to take my own advice!

Do you have one of those kids who seems to never be able to find what they need? Missing assignments, missing clothes, missing shoes, chronic lateness . . .

I have one of those kids, and as she gets older, the stakes keep get higher. So here is what I've learned about keeping kids organized as I've struggled through the early school years with her:

1) Teach kids to make lists. When my daughter was younger I made lists for her, but now she makes them for herself. Those post-it notes and dry erase boards in lockers are helpful if you remind them to write it down. I was amused a few weeks back when I noticed my daughter had written on both sides of her hand. I asked her what it said, and she listed off something she needed to remember. Then I asked what was written on the top of her hand, and she read off, "look on other side."

2) Make sure they clean out their backpacks and folders regularly. Disorganized kids won't think to do this without being reminded, and every bit of clutter only serves to make their minds more cluttered.

3) Try to identify what the issue is. Is it that they don't know how to organize things? Work together on some organization projects and tell your child each step of what you're doing: First we take everything out, then we make piles of stuff to keep, toss, or give away. Then we find a storage solution for whatever we're keeping.

Is it that they are a perfectionist, and the moment something is out of order they give up and leave it a mess? Try to work with them on getting things good enough to be functional.

Is it that they get distracted easily? This one is definitely the hardest nut to crack. It helps to make their environment (room, desk, etc.) less cluttered. Beyond that, just keep praising them every time they stick with a task and reminding them every time they forget what they are doing.

4) Make notes to yourself about what you need to remind the child about. Yes, it would be nice if they remembered to bring their instrument to school on orchestra days by themselves. But maybe it's easier to just remind them in the morning as they're walking out the door. I find this means I need to be on top of things myself by getting up on time and making notes for myself.

5) Consequences, consequences. At some point disorganized kids need to learn to manage their own world. Pick some reasonable, age-appropriate level of things they need to do on their own and then give some painful consequences if they fail to follow through. Missing assignments equals missing playdates. Forgotten stuff equals no screen time. That kind of thing.

6) Chill out. This is the one I need to work on. As a goal-oriented, organized type of person, it's really hard for me to relax and let my daughter muddle through in her disorganized way. Being disorganized is part of her makeup. It's what makes her a people person, tuned into the feelings of others. It's what makes her musical and creative. Unfortunately, since I like an orderly world, I tend to overreact about her slip-ups.

The trick is to find a balance over time between teaching your child the skills they need to succeed in life and understanding that they are a person who is supposed to be a little disorganized because that's what goes along with their personality and gifting. There are lots of amazing people in the world who are disorganized, and somehow they make it through life. Don't stop trying to help your child learn better organization (for their good and your sanity), but don't make them and yourself miserable trying to change who they are.


  1. Good perspective on this person you mention :) MB

  2. Love the last I need to keep that in mind way more...I value your honesty and humility Nancy