Welcome to Part 2: What you need to teach kids how to be organized.
If you missed Part 1: Realizing the importance of organization and the benefits of routines for children, please click here.
Did you ever hear the quote, “Practice what you preach”? My mother loved saying this. Although I did not appreciate it at the time, I agree with her now, especially when it comes to parenting.
As parents we have to teach our children to do many things. A lot of what our children learn is also role modeled through our words, actions and deeds. One of the most important things we need to do is make sure that our role-modeling matches and reinforces what we want our children to learn.
Before imparting information to others, such as teaching your child to be organized, it’s important to assess your experience on the subject and the way you role model it. In order for your child to learn organizational skills she has to know what organization looks like and feels like. When children live in an environment that is disorganized, where schedules and routines do not exist, it makes it difficult for them to understand what 'being organized' means. It also creates an environment where anxiety is more likely to exist.
Not knowing where things are or what might happen in the next hour, tomorrow or next week can create an uncomfortable atmosphere in which too much energy is spent fretting about the future with not enough energy focused on the present. This can often be the reason behind the complaint, “My child doesn’t pay attention to me!”
Unfortunately, anxiety is a great brain hijacker. And when a child is consumed with worry and unease his brain is not fully available to pay attention and learn new things. Apprehension and angst place obstacles in the neurological pathways necessary for acquiring new knowledge and accomplishing new tasks.
So what does it take to teach a child the importance of organizing her personal belongings, home environment, and daily activities?
The answer is to be a good role model and reduce any factors that might be triggering anxiety in your child.
When it comes to organizational skills I have worked with many adults who like to fly by the seat of their pants – what they call ‘being a free spirit’. Being a free spirit is a wonderful thing. It feels great and is often very nourishing to the soul. But… Yes, unfortunately there is a but!
But parenting as a random free-spirited, impulsive, freedom-loving, non-conforming individual can make life very challenging for a child who struggles to make sense of the world they live in.
When I tell parents they need to spend time teaching their children how to be organized I sometimes meet resistance. Some have told me that they are not an organized person and they really don’t want to be. I understand they like to fly by the seat of their pants but being impetuous and disorganized is only okay when it affects you and you alone. When it involves children that thrive on order and predictability you can’t expect them to be cooperative, act confident, and stay calm.
You have a choice. Either you push yourself to be more organized so you can teach and role-model it appropriately or you continue to deal with the chaos it creates. When life is more predictable and orderly for your child it will reduce the anxiety that can trigger challenging behavior.
Sometimes changing behaviors in your children means changing behaviors in yourself first. You don’t have to completely change your stripes. You just need to know when and where you can wear them if you want to provide your child with an environment that will maximize her greatest potential.
Becoming a more organized parent is not a life-long sentence. Providing your child with a predictable environment now will provide him with the stability he needs to manage his anxiety. Only in that environment can your child begin to explore ways to be more flexible and manage a certain amount of disorder.
Now let me ask. Do you have what it takes to teach and role model organizational skills?
Let’s take a minute to self-evaluate. This requires an honest and mindful reflection about the way you organize your life and how it impacts those around you. No judging allowed.
Traits of an organized person are:
being prepared and punctual,
budgeting time effectively and meet deadlines,
having a system for recording assignments/chores/obligations, appointments
always having the materials necessary to accomplish the task effectively
keeping desks and study/work areas neat
establishing goals and priorities and developing routines/systems around them that WORK
Do you have certain systems like these already in place that work for ‘your family’? If so, that’s great!
If not, begin to experiment with one or both of these organizing strategies.
1 - Keep items in a designated spot.
Children on the autism spectrum thrive on sameness so make things predictable by having a special place for everything. Designating a certain place for back packs and briefcases so you always know where they live. This makes it easier to find them the evening before in order to pack them with the appropriate materials, such as homework and office work. Doing so will minimize frantic morning searches that can cause you to be late. This is more apt to send everyone out the door with a smile rather than a frown.
2 – Maintain a family calendar.
Expand that appointment book of yours into command central - a calendar that everyone can see, understand, and refer to. Hang a large, store bought or homemade, calendar in an area where everyone can see it, such as the kitchen. This is a great visual for everyone to focus on and stay informed about what each day will bring. Keeping track of activities, appointments and events helps everyone see the big picture making it less likely that one activity will interfere with another.
A large family calendar is a great visual that appeals to most children. It’s a concrete way to make your child’s life more predictable and will also help him to anticipate and prepare for transitions.
For more strategies to help you, and your child, become more organized when it comes to school contact me at 207-615-5457 or pick up a copy of my book in print or digital format, AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies to a Positive School Experience – Over 300 Tips to Enhance your Child’s School Success on Amazon.