A young student looks at his mess of books and papers while an adult tries to talk to them


If Your Child Is Disorganized Now, They Won’t Be Forever — Here’s How to Work on It

Feb 28, 2019

As many parents can attest, learning styles and study skills vary from student to student.

However, as children move to higher grades, those who haven't acquired effective and efficient study skills come under a considerable amount of stress.

Additional Reading: How to Help Kids Who Struggle with Daily Transitions

That's because in order to develop resiliency and a sense of purpose, children have to feel socially and academically competent and become self-sufficient problem solvers.

When parents notice perceived road blocks to better study habits, they come to me with questions. Here is one example of a question I get asked often — about organization, or a lack thereof.

"Our child is in grade 5/6 and they are disorganized. I talk to them almost every day but it does not help. What can I do?"

Many adults take the ability to organize for granted. And so, we tend to get frustrated with children who are disorganized — we question their motivation and sense of responsibility. But for disorganized children, seeing patterns of simple everyday events in school or at home may be difficult. They tend to become confused when we request that they change their behaviour and become organized. Talking to them is not enough, since they may have problems translating their promises into actions.

Involve Your Child and their Teacher

First, consult with the teacher about strategies which work well in the classroom.

But don't just consult their teacher — include your child in the planning by creating a checklist for routines at home. Depending on your child's age, they may feel better equipped to decide priorities and goals for after school with your guidance. Many parents use such a system with little result. This, however, is because they tend to set too many goals and do not use the system consistently.

Related Links: Morning Routine Punch Cards

Lead by Example

Instead of amassing too many goals, show your child how tasks you do at home are broken down into small steps. This will help them see how doing things one step at a time is less overwhelming. Also, working on one or two goals with success will provide your child with immediate feedback and encouragement to continue their tasks.  

Break Tasks into Small Steps

Ask your child to think out loud about the steps required to complete tasks you know your child will be good at. This will make them feel in control, and hopefully will enhance their motivation. Also, by making time to listen to your child about their areas of interest, you may make a link between those topics and any planning or organizational needs they require.

Ask Questions and Give Praise

If your child has become progressively more disorganized, you may need to question other areas. Having difficulties with concentration and organization also indicates stress at school or with peers. Take time to question, listen and praise when things have been accomplished. Your child needs to hear from you that you have noticed positive change.

Article Author Dr. Ester Cole
Dr. Ester Cole

Read more from Dr. Ester Cole here.

Dr. Ester Cole is a psychologist in private practice in Toronto providing services to school-age children, youth, families and schools. She was the chair of The Psychology Foundation of Canada and the Parenting for Life program, and the past president of the Ontario Psychological Association and the Canadian Association of School Psychologists. She has published and lectured widely, and has been active on committees provincially, nationally and in the American Psychological Association. Follow The Psychology Foundation on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and visit psychologyfoundation.org to access various resources for parents to support the promotion of your child’s mental well-being.

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