Six Tips for Parenting a Disorganized Child

Disorganized Child

Kids with weaknesses in planning and organization have trouble independently imposing structure and order to tasks and ideas. So, they have difficulty organizing information in their heads, as well as organizing their stuff or planning out a long-term project. When faced with various tasks, disorganized children may have trouble thinking through the steps required, and they may tend to underestimate the complexity and the time needed.

Does this sound like your child?
• She has trouble organizing her space.
• He neglects to turn in completed homework assignments.
• She arrives at her Girl Scout meeting completely unprepared.
• He underestimates the effort involved in a big class project.
• She is overwhelmed at juggling multiple classes and projects.
If so, there are tried-and true behavioral interventions you can try — and continue to practice — with your child to help him or her with this challenge.

1. Break down tasks into component parts. For example, for a school project, divide the tasks into daily chunks, and enter these on the calendar or in an agenda book as homework. Build in an extra day or two for the unexpected, so your child gets in the habit of planning a cushion of extra time.

2. Offer organizational frameworks in advance. Discuss the most important points to be learned before your child gets started.

For a reading assignment and book report, for example, provide an outline of the major topics and subtopics from the book with space for your child to fill in specific information. Offer study questions in advance so he or she understands the learning objectives before starting to read.

3. Teach the use of tricks and technology aids. Teach your child to write a one-sentence summary on a sticky note after reading each paragraph that he can use later for his report. Also, set the alarm on his or her watch for chunks of studying time. Enter reminders or alarms on the computer for due dates. When your child prints out an assignment, consider prompt him or her to also e-mail it to the teacher.

4. Develop templates for repetitive procedures. Make a checklist of everything that needs to be in your child’s soccer bag. Laminate it and keep it in the soccer bag for last-minute checking. For young children, create photo charts with pictures from magazines for completing chores, preparing to catch the bus and gathering necessary gear for sports practice.

5. Walk through the planning process with your child. If your son or daughter chronically loses or doesn’t turn in homework, talk through the process. Is the homework getting lost at home? Is it in the bottom of the backpack? In his or her locker? Is it in the right notebook, but forgotten once class starts? Once you identify where the process is getting stuck, add a step to his or her routine to get past it.

6. Provide accommodations at home and at school. Simplify your child’s schedule by reducing the number of extracurricular activities. Ask your child’s teacher for advance notice of upcoming assignments, so you and your child can identify the most demanding times of the week or semester so appropriate adjustments can be made in his or her homework and study schedule.