Develop Organizational Skills
Use a Visual Cue
Your child tosses his backpack when he walks in the door, takes off his shoes on the way to the kitchen, and leaves his lunch card in the back pocket of his shorts. The left shoe ends up under the couch, the backpack is hidden under a pile of coats, and the lunch card gets eaten by the washing machine. This is the story with most of his belongings. As a result, his things always get lost, wind up in unexpected locations, and he loses time trying to track them down.
Most young children scatter their items occasionally, but as they get older they start to find a spot for their things and care about keeping them organized. If your child continues to scatter his items as he gets older and remains stressed and confused trying to find them, this could signal he is struggling to develop organizational skills.
Organization is one of our executive functions: the set of skills that let us effectively execute daily tasks.
Solution: Draw a picture of his backpack and shoes lined up by the front door on a sticky note and place it on the container of his favorite snack in the fridge or pantry.
When your child comes in from school and reaches for his snack, he’ll see the reminder and do that task before he eats his snack. After several weeks of following this approach, he’ll put his shoes and backpack by the front door as a matter of habit.
Don’t do this: Say, “Put your shoes and backpack away!”
Do this instead: Use a visual cue on favorite items or key points in your child’s routine to direct him to complete the prior steps in his routine first.
Remember: Failing to organize his important stuff is not deliberate on your child’s part but rather a sign of a cognitive challenge. This weakness can be sidestepped by learning a new habit.
It is perfectly normal for children to experience some degree of difficulty and frustration as they learn to execute new tasks. Toddlers can tantrum, school-aged children can yell and argue, and teenagers can ignore instructions. When deciding if executive function weaknesses require intervention, ask yourself: “How frequently is this occurring? How intense is the experience/significant the impact?” If your answer to these questions is “too much,” “too often,” “I don’t know what to do to change this,” or “it’s only getting worse,” you may benefit from a face-to-face conversation to help problem-solve your concern. Effective problem solving will help you clearly identify the problem, goal, steps it will take to achieve your goal, possible barriers, and available supports.