Welcome to my four part series on organization.
Step 1 - Realizing the importance of organization and the benefits of routines for children.
Staying organized is a common problem! Many families, not just those with different abilities, experience difficulty living in this increasingly complex world, with multiple demands on their time and energy.
In these hectic times, it may seem impossible to maintain an organized family lifestyle. Many families are juggling schedules for work, school, recreation, therapies, lessons, sports, and so on. I have had many parents tell me that they are simply overwhelmed and find it hard to organize. Many go through life by default then suddenly realize they are constantly running through chaos.
It is in chaotic and busy times such as these that organization and structure becomes most important. The big payoff for you – and your children - is greater productivity, less stress, better health and family relationships.
Need I convince you more?
In addition to the worthwhile effects mentioned above, there are other positive outcomes that better organization, structure and routine can have on a person, young or old.
1) Behavioral impact – Structured routines help improve efficiency and daily functioning by systemizing behavior. It helps make sense of the why we do things and sends a message that says, "This is how we do things." Routines make daily activities manageable - allowing your child to focus on one thing at a time.
2) Psychological impact - The entire family benefits from a structured routine. Both parents and children experience less stress when there's less drama about what time you'll eat dinner, where you’ll do your homework, who will take you to practice, or what is going to happen tomorrow.
3) Emotional impact – Self-regulation becomes less of a challenge when daily life is more orderly. When things are more predictable with established routines and structure, it makes it easier to handle one’s emotions because less energy is expended on trying to manage chaos and confusion. More energy can then be applied to enhancing one’s ability to cope with the important challenges of life.
4) Social impact – Socialization begins at home. A relaxed home yields stronger family relationships. A child’s social/family identity is solidified by routines in which roles are clear (John sets the table, Lucy clears the dishes, Sam feeds the cats, Carrie pours the water) Even though these roles may shift the message is clear. ‘We are a family that works as a team and schedules regular time for eating, chores, playing, schoolwork and other ongoing responsibilities.’
5) Academic impact – Organized routines help kids do better in school. Fifty percent of the reason for lack of success in school is due to problems with organization and lack of routines. Some children learn by watching and imitating others yet some need help trying to figure out what it takes to be organized.
A review of 50 years of psychological research, published in Journal of Family Psychology, shows that even infants and preschoolers are healthier and exhibit better regulated behavior when there are predictable routines in the family.
Many people equate organization with extreme neatness and cleanliness, and therefore feel that they can never be organized. But organization has less to do with neatness and much more to do with patterns of activity.
All children, especially those with learning differences, achieve better in an environment that follows patterns of activity - routines, rituals, and systems. We also know that children with autism have an intense need for everything to stay the same. Providing them with what they need more of now will help give them the security they need to be more flexible in the future.
In addition to the organization of daily life activities, the physical organization of belongings and the environment also has an impact.
What happens when kids are exposed to a constant state of clutter?
A child’s feelings and sensations often equate with their surroundings. When the environment they live in is in a state of disorganization it can trigger a feeling of being out of control. A fear of not being able to find things when necessary along with confusion, anxiety, incompetence, embarrassment and shame can set the stage for a depressive mood or attitude.
Children are good at 'making' clutter but they cope better when things are organized. It's not that they're inconsiderate. It's not that they are defiant or disrespectful. It's the way they are wired until taught differently. Some get so focused on tasks that they fail to notice the mess they've created. If the mess is pointed out, they may be clueless as to how to clean it up - or may start cleaning up at once, only to be distracted and stop before they have completed the task.
All children need guidance and direction to clean up their own messes. Clutter control is a skill everyone must master to experience a healthy, productive and successful life.
So what are the basic ingredients to guide a child to a more organized life?
Effective approaches for teaching children to be more organized contain the following:
1) Consistency – Repetition and lots of practice is necessary to create new habits. This is how new neural pathways become established. Keep in mind that a typical adult has to do something a minimum of twenty-one times before it becomes an ingrained habit.
2) Commitment - from all adults in the household. Having everyone on board to present a united front is crucial. Delivering the same unified message and support is key to helping a child develop new skills.
3) Realistic approach – Think baby steps. Nothing happens overnight so don’t give up easily. Set goals that you know your child can master. These early feelings of success will set the stage for attempting bigger challenges in the future.
4) Start early! Establish predictable structure and routines when children are young. Birth to age six is an important period of brain development called "windows of opportunity", which are peak times for learning. But it's never too late to start.
Adding more organization to daily routines or your physical environment will have many positive outcomes. Injecting even small amounts of organization and preparation into your home environment and life schedule can mean the difference between an active yet productive family versus one that is stressed and plagued by disagreement and disorder.
Help your children thrive by providing boundaries, stability, safety, and security with a more organized approach.
Coming next: Step 2 – Teaching and role modeling organizational skills.
Get extra support and ideas for getting your child more organized for school by visiting here.