Let’s Get Organised

Dr Deborah Trengove

As we head into the second half of the school year, parents and kids should have a good idea about what is expected in their year level. Reports have been sent home, and you may have had a parent-teacher meeting to discuss your child’s progress so far. It’s the perfect time to take a step back, reset and assess what you and your child need to focus on for the remainder of the year.

Organisational skills are key when it comes to young people succeeding at school and maximising their potential. On the flip side, disorganisation can undermine their achievements and cause frustration for parents and teachers. Kids can feel like they are always in trouble if they are constantly being pulled up for losing, forgetting, or not finishing something.

Organisational skills may seem simple enough to adults, but for some children, these skills take longer to become part of their daily routines. Organisation is associated with executive functioning, the brain’s “manager” which plans, prioritises, and manages distractions. Neurodivergent children and teens, especially those with ADHD, often need more support to stay organised at school and at home. Other children may also struggle with organisation, but don’t worry – as a parent there are things you can do to help.

What are the core organisational skills that children and teens need?

  • Knowing what is required – usually through a diary system.
  • Keeping track of belongings – taking necessary items to and from school.
  • Being able to find what they need – keeping things in an orderly manner.
  • Planning what needs to be done – connecting the now with the future.

Inattention or distractibility can cause kids to miss important information, which contributes to disorganisation. This is a tough one to overcome for some kids, and adults may need to change the way they give information or instructions to make it easier for them to understand. At home, make sure you have your child’s attention before giving instructions and limit the amount of information given at one time.

It’s important to understand that children’s sense of time is also developing as they mature. Children in the early primary years generally operate in a time frame of a matter of hours, while children in late primary school can conceive of time for most of the day. By early secondary school, teenagers’ awareness of time grows from several days to a week, while older teenagers can think ahead and plan for the coming weeks, being able to balance competing demands and allocate resources accordingly – in theory at least!

10 strategies to try at home:

  1. Find a diary system that works for your child or teenager. Some do well with electronic diaries, others prefer a hard copy.
  2. Help your child to break down tasks down into smaller, manageable chunks. This is a key skill to develop as children are assigned more complex tasks.
  3. Build the habit of writing lists that are visible – in the diary, on a board, using post-it notes, whatever works. Teenagers can be encouraged to have a daily list and a weekly list to help plan across the week.
  4. Help high school-aged children to set up folders for their subjects and review every term – clean out rubbish, file papers away in appropriate categories.
  5. Encourage the “do it now” principle such as “put it away now” or “write it down now”, doing it while they remember and before other activities take over.
  6. Get into the routine of packing bags at night, to save time in the morning and prevent them forgetting things as they rush to get out the door on time.
  7. Use a calendar for the family, including everyone’s activities and appointments. Some families use more sophisticated shared online calendars, others like a whiteboard for the weekly schedule.
  8. Consider using a timer if your child needs help with managing time, such as knowing when 15 minutes of reading is up, or how long they spend in the bathroom!
  9. Use visual reminders and encourage your child to help create them. They are more likely to stick to routines or follow lists if they are involved in making them.
  10. White boards are wonderful for lists and reminders – just make sure you tie the whiteboard marker to the board, so it doesn’t go missing!

Above all, recognise your child’s efforts and growth in these key skills. Be specific in your praise and encouragement – this will help build their confidence and keep them motivated. Remember, the habits they develop now will stand them in good stead throughout their schooling and beyond.

Dr Deborah Trengove is part of the ParentZone Eastern team. Deborah is a former school psychologist, head of wellbeing and educational leader and has written many articles to support the vital role of parents.

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