Before starting Seaside Styling I spent thirteen years helping middle schoolers get organized, and let me tell you: they. need. help. In fact, most kids do.
There is often an assumption that children and teens will pick up the skills they need to be organized simply by being exposed to daily situations in which their success is dependent on how organized they are. Some kids are able to pick up on these skills as if by osmosis, and others seem to come by it naturally (I was organizing drawers and color coding my shoes when I was ten). However, most kids are completely clueless.
Like every other skill your child has to master, organization skills must be broken down, modeled and practiced.
If you frequently receive emails about missing homework or calls from a panicked child about a forgotten instrument, PE clothes, or lunchbox, then chances are your child needs a little more direct instruction.
After over a decade of working with children and families to develop strategies for academic success, here are my top tips for streamlining your morning routine and getting out the door with everything your child needs for the day.
Use a Checklist
Put a checklist at your child’s eye level next to or directly on the door you exit from each day. On it include each item your child needs to have ready to go. If your child’s schedule and needs vary quite a bit from day-to-day, use a whiteboard and dry erase markers. Each evening, review with your child exactly what he or she will need for the next day.
Depending on the child, he or she may be able to take more ownership of the process and create the list themselves. You can help by having your child think through each part of the day and by looking over his or her daily homework planner together. Before you head out the door each day, pause and review the list together.
PE Clothes (W/F)
2. Verbalize Your Own Internal Processes
As adults, we make mental checklists all the time. You can help your children “see” how you organize your day by sharing these checklists out loud.
“Car keys? Check. Wallet? Check. Coffee? Check! Mail to drop off? Check.”
By sharing your internal dialogue, you are modeling for your children to pause and think beyond the next five minutes, to look ahead at what is coming next. If you have a very visual child, you can even add a parent checklist next to theirs with your everyday items.
3. Pack the Night Before
If you have a child who loathes getting out of bed in the morning and leaves the house still in a dreamy haze, one who is rushed out the door most days, shoelaces untied and shirt half-tucked or one who wakes up feeling anxious about the day ahead, help him or her develop the habit of packing the night before.
After reviewing the next day’s agenda, have your child gather everything he or she will need and set it by the door. This will add time to your evening routine, but can make a huge difference in the way you and your child begin your day. (As I am not a morning person by nature, I always pack my bag and lay my clothes out the night before to avoid feeling stressed in the morning!)
4. Be Patient
You are helping your child develop an important life skill, and just like learning to tie shoelaces, it won’t always be perfect and will take more time than you wish it would before it becomes second nature. Some children may have to have a hard copy checklist for years. Others may only need a few months. While still others may grow up and find that writing down reminders of what they need to bring with them for the day still works pretty darn well (thank you to the inventors of Post-Its!).
5. Allow Your Child to Work Toward Independence
It can sometimes be hard for parents to step back and allow their children to move toward independence, but it is essential for their development and, ultimately, their success. If you are the one carrying the lunchbox or putting the homework papers together each night, your child is not learning to develop their own strategies for success. Putting strategies and routines into place and gradually giving your child more and more control over them can help your children grow into independent, self-sufficient adults (who hopefully will not live at home with you forever…)
If you find that your child is saying he has everything he needs for the day, but is still leaving items behind, have him physically show you each item on the checklist. This will take more time and will be annoying to all involved at first (especially on those days that you are running late), but the payoff in the end is worth it. After a few weeks, you can go back to doing the verbal checklist.
Speaking with your child’s teacher about what he or she is seeing in the classroom in regard to organization will give you invaluable insights as well. You can work together to celebrate growth and troubleshoot consistent problem areas.
If school stress turns your home into a battlefield rather than a peaceful retreat, you may want to consider bringing in an objective third party to help. I designed my Back-to-School Package specifically for families who are ready to throw in the towel.
Start the Year Off Strong
A motto I used quite a bit during my teaching days was to, “assume nothing, model everything”. I used this motto with everything from how to pass papers to be turned in down the line so that they didn’t end up every which-a-way by the time they got to the end, to what students should say when they inevitably did leave their homework on the kitchen table.
Your kids may no longer need you to show them how to drink from a cup or get dressed in the morning (though I bet there are days when they make you wonder about their mastery of that particular skill), but they still need you to model and teach them the skills they need to be organized and less-stressed for school. The start of school is the perfect time to implement new strategies.
You know where to find me if you need me, and here’s to a fantastic 2019-20 school year for you and your family!
Until next time,