Disorganized Children

January 16, 2014

messykidsMany parents complain that their kids are disorganized. These kids are often late, lose their homework, shoes, or games, and come unprepared to school. It is frustrating to have a child who seems more disorganized then other kids: who take forever to get dressed, are too tired to do their chores, have backpacks overflowing with papers (but never the paper they actually need!) and have trouble getting their homework done, and who start on their three-page book report the night before they are due.

How can we help them get organized? Here are three tips:


1.    Give Choices

Giving choices is a skill that should be used regularly for all children whether they struggle with organization or not. Giving choices is beneficial because it diffuses conflict and lets children assert their independence in a healthy way. This technique allows children to feel in control, and better able to focus on the task at hand.  Implicit in the choice is the fact that the child needs to fulfill the task, but gets to choose how. It exercises their brains helping them to concentrate by making them think and solve simple everyday problems.

Anything can be a choice, even things that may seem silly to adults:

  • Do you want to brush your teeth now, or in five minutes?
  • Do you want the blue or the red cup?
  • Do you want to play with the legos or the ball?

It is also a good idea to make a habit of asking children:

  • What do you think would work better?
  • Seems like you have a few options.
  • Are your comfortable with this?
  • Will this work better for you?


2.  Give Children Some Control

Adults have a real need to feel in charge. It is a basic human need. We all need to feel capable and it is comforting to know that we can impact our environment in positive ways. Children also like to feel in charge. One way to enable them in a safe and respectful way is to let them sequence their activities. To encourage this, parents can say:

“Bedtime is at 7pm. What would be a good time to start getting ready if you want to play a bit, brush your teeth, get into pajamas and read a bedtime book?”

The goald is not to have military precision when going to bed. It is just an exercise in helping him take charge of his time and his responsibilities and to feel more in control.


3. Help Children Process Directions

You can set your child up for success. If he has trouble processing directions, give him a visual cue.  It could be pointing to the door or his coat if you are leaving or giving tactile cues such as gently tapping on the shoulder and or making eye contact so you know they have heard you. Give warnings for five to ten minutes before you are ready to go is also helpful.

Late, Lost and Unprepared, a book by Joyce Cooper Kahn and Laurie Dietzel, provides some specific strategies for direction processing. They suggest accommodating working memory weaknesses by providing reasonable supports.

For example:

  • Expect to repeat the directions, as necessary, and do so in a patient, sensitive manner.
  • For adolescents, ask how you can provide reminders or cues without bugging them. Be flexible and willing to try any reasonable way of helping.
  • Prompt for good listening skills. (“I am going to give you the directions. Please look at me so I know that you are focusing.”)

They also suggest organizing the information in a manner that creates bullet points to aid in recall:

  • “Remember, you have three important points to write about: what was the problem, how did the people solve it, and what was the outcome. Remember, I want to see three points.”
  • “Johnny, this morning we have some clean-up chores to do around the house before we can go swimming. You have three things you need to get done. Here they are: First, put all the dirty clothes into your hamper. Second, bring the hamper down to the laundry room. Third, put your super-hero guys away. Got it? There are three things on your list. Do you remember what they are? You tell me so I am sure you’ve got them all.”
  • Keep directions simple. It is important to make sure that the most important information is clear. For example, “Jackie, I want you to get your coat, get your library books from the dining room table, and come back here to the kitchen. Got that? Coat. Library books. Kitchen. Go.”


Giving choices, giving kids some control and helping children process directions can help kids get organized.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.