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How to Help Your Child Get—and Stay—Organised

June 17, 2020

A child’s mind is like a blob of soft clay that is continuously changing shape. They will flit from one activity to another; their clothes will be spilling out of the closet; their toys will be strewn all over the house. They’ll find it difficult to follow a schedule in the morning when you’re in a hurry, or even at night when you’re tired. Psychologically, it is impossible for them to be as self-regulated and organised as adults. But does that mean that they cannot learn to be reasonably organised and independent?

What does it mean to be organised?

Being organised has three key aspects: 1) knowing where you have kept all your things, 2) being aware of what you are doing right now, and 3) knowing where you are going or what you’re doing next. This means that there is an order to your life: you do not frantically search for an item or waste time figuring out the next step. An organised person has more mental and physical energy to focus on things that truly matter.

But why do we need children to be organised?

Teaching a child to be organised helps both the child and the parent. While the child learns habits and skills that make her more effective, the parent is more relaxed because she is not running around putting stuff back in place or pushing the child to do things.

Here are some suggestions on how you can help your child get—and stay—organised.

Begin early

Make no mistake—being organised is not a one-off event or lesson; it is a long-term habit and a way of life. Such lifelong habits need to be inculcated in children from early childhood. One of the ways to begin is to invest the time and effort, as a parent, to keep the surroundings of the child tidy. As they say, “A place for everything and everything in its place.” The benefit of doing this, especially when the child can watch you do it, is that the child gets used to an environment that is organised. Gradually, as she grows older, a disorganised setup will cause her discomfort and she will feel like tidying up things herself.

Lead by example

You know that parents are the best role models for their children. That means that if you are not quite organised yourself, you will not sufficiently motivate your child to become organised either. Therefore, ensure that your house—kitchen, bathrooms, books, tools, cars, cabinets, beds, clothes, etc.—are organised and tidy. But do not get anxious about being organised as it may have unhealthy mental impact on the child. The idea is to create a healthy, positive practice and not a strict regimen.

Communicate effectively

When your child is old enough to understand instructions, start teaching her to organise her stuff. At that time, you must communicate your instructions effectively. Here are some tips for that:

  1. Be physically close to the child when you give instructions. If you yell instructions from far away, the seriousness of the request gets lost.
  2. Maintain eye contact when you speak. Ask your child to look at you when you talk to her. This helps in both comprehension and retention of instructions.
  3. Don’t overload your child’s mind with too many instructions. Give one direction at a time and follow up later.
  4. Give clear and concise instructions. This will ensure that child understands what is expected of her.
  5. Make achievable requests so that the child doesn’t feel disappointed if she is unable to comply.
  6. Use a warm and encouraging tone of voice. Try not to reveal your frustration, if any. If you feel frustrated, take a time-out, calm down, and begin again.
  7. Don’t blame your child about past mistakes and don’t nag. These will only reduce your child’s self-confidence and make her insecure.
  8. Praise your child’s efforts, even if she does not do well. Keep encouraging her to do better. Praising reinforces the behaviour and helps habit formation. It also reduces the child’s frustration and insecurity.
  9. Provoke long-term thinking in your child by discussing with her what activities she—and the family—can do the next hour or day or week.

Incentivise your child

Rewards or incentives can be a useful way to reinforce positive behaviours or discourage negative ones. If used thoughtfully, rewards are not manipulative and can assist long-term habit formation. Say you want your child to play quietly while you work, or go through the morning routine promptly, or go to bed on time: in such cases, you can use incentives to overcome the child’s internal resistance. Involve your child in creating the rewards list. You could include inexpensive items like stickers and toy animals, or privileges like ice cream or extra TV time, or special activities like kiddy pool or zoo. But do not be indiscriminate in giving out rewards—they may then lose their appeal.

Maintain regularity and consistency

Finally, to convert being organised into a long-term habit, you must ensure that the communication and exercise of the habit-forming practices are carried out regularly and in a consistent manner until the child acts organised without your help. Constant reinforcement and efforts by you will ensure that your child becomes—and stays—organised.