“Help! My child is so disorganized”

Whether your child’s bedroom is in a constant state of upheaval, they can’t find important items in their backpack, or they can’t seem to remember multi-step directions, the underlaying issue may weak Executive Functioning skills.

What Are Executive Functioning Skills

Executive Functioning is a broad term for a set of mental abilities that are essential for thinking through, organizing and completing tasks. They are the skills that allow our brains to plan and manage our time effectively. Although individuals with learning disabilities, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often struggle with executive functioning, many children and adults without a diagnosed learning disability have formidable challenges with the skill of organization. Some examples of these skills include a person’s ability to:

…shift focus from one task to another when necessary

…complete tasks, to include homework, on time

…to effectively plan for an assignment in the future

…keep track of school supplies

…maintain appropriate self-control

Of course this is not an exhaustive list and you may be able to add to it given your experience with a child that is disorganized.

What Do Symptoms of Executive Functioning Disorder Look Like?

You may be well aware of issues your child is having at home, at school or in social situations. A child may have an executive functioning disorder (EFD) if you consistently note they have

…difficulty working from memory

…poor impulse control

…an inability to follow two step directions

…difficulty prioritizing and completing tasks at home and school

…difficulty focusing

…unrealistic timelines for event planning

…difficulty with self control (even when reminded)

6 Ways to Help In the Development of Your Child’s Organizational Skills

Helping a child develop organization skills does not have to be a huge undertaking. In fact, there are simple activities you can do at home to help instill order, predicability, and a sense of control all while helping to develop organization skills. To get started, try these 6 easy activities:

  1. Start using a kid friendly calendar. Together with your child, schedule the daily events on the calendar to provide a visual representation of activities that take up time. Let them record special events in pen or add stickers to mark special days! Hang it in a central location and refer to it often. I use a month at a glance with my children.
  2. The night before busy days or events, have them lay out their clothes. Make time to discus clothing options and encourage them to put their outfits together before bedtime. This allows for planning and discussion ahead of time.
  3. Put your child in charge of organizing a cabinet, drawer, or space in the house. The kitchen is a great place to start. Organizing cutlery, pots and pans, or even plastic containers with lids can be a starting point. Don’t want them in the kitchen, how about sorting socks?
  4. Encourage them to formulate a To-Do list. Provide blank paper and have them list all the activities or things they need to accomplish in a specific time period. I typically start with one day for younger children, a week for older children, and longer periods of time for young adults. I suggest children try and list at least 10 activities so they are breaking down larger tasks into smaller ones. Encourage them to check off each item after they complete it. Positive reinforcement is always appreciated.
  5. Enlist your child to help create a shopping list, and bring them along to use it. Make them responsible for retrieving several items on the list. This is a great activity to start conversations about price, size, and value. For an extra exercise, have them check to make sure the list is complete before checking out.
  6. Use a timer or clock to help your child understand time. Have them set a timer before beginning homework, or playing a video game. You can set limits, but it is important that children understand what 10 minutes, 30 minutes, or 60 minutes feels like. We know that when we are engaged in something we enjoy, time races. The converse is true when doing activities we dislike. After several ‘timings’ have them estimate how long an activity will take them to complete.

These are just a few suggestions for activities to help bolster organization skills with your child. While maturation does play a part in strengthening executive functioning skills, it is never too early to help develop winning strategies for organization.

Want more information or assistance on Executive Functioning skills and training. Reach out to Dr. Christine Powell at Dr.ccpowell@gmail.com

Published by drpowellpurposefuleducation

I am a special educator, researcher, and education advocate helping parents and students make purposeful educational decisions. This page is a way of sharing my insights, experiences, and expertise on special education issues and best practices, along with highlighting my Fulbright Distinguished Teacher experience in Singapore. Fulbright Disclaimer- The views and information presented are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program of the U.S. Department of State.

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