Helping kids develop organizing skills

My mother was a teacher for over 30 years. When I decided to have children, she gave me the book, Kids are worth it! by Barbara Coloroso. I learned a lot from that book, including how to help my kids (and my organizing clients’ children) develop their organizing talents and independent thinking skills.

Identify the problems

It is important to identify the organizing challenge and frame it correctly using positive, empowering language. Blame and accusations are counter-productive. Young children need help in identifying the issues while teenagers should be capable of figuring it out on their own. For example, if you want to help a younger child keep a playroom tidy, you might state, “You seem to be having some trouble finding [special toy]. Would you like some help organizing so you can find it when you need it?” With teenagers you might say, “The family sits down to supper at 6pm. You’ll need to create a plan so that your art supplies are cleared off the dining table by then.”

Give ownership and options

By giving the child ownership of the problem and letting them know you will be available to help, builds confidence. As a parent/caregiver, asking these questions will prompt useful answers for creating organizing solutions.

  • What is working? If something is working well, try not to change it. If the children are happy with all of the Lego pieces in one large bin, don’t suggest they separate it into various colours and types. With younger children you will likely have to ask them specific questions about specific things such as, “Do your dolls like living on this shelf?”
  • What is not working? By clearly identifying what is not working, you can take steps to fix it. For example, the kids need a large, flat space to do art and crafts and the heirloom dining table is off limits to paint, glue, and ink.
  • What are the most and least important tasks done in the space? What are the most and least used items in the space? These questions encourage kids to establish priorities. Once those are defined, decisions can be made about how better to use the space.
  • How do people and things move through the area? Do people need a clear path to walk across the room? Is there enough space to build the Lego Millennium Falcon?

R.S.V.P. solutions

In the Kids are worth it! book, Coloroso uses the acronym R.S.V.P. to determine if discipline techniques are appropriate. This acronym can also be used for organizing solutions.

R — Is it Reasonable? The organizing solution needs to make sense. Helping younger children choose their outfits for the next day is reasonable. Having a teenager do his/her own laundry and prepare their own school clothes the night before is also reasonable.

S — Is it Simple? The organizing solution should be easy to implement. Purchasing hanging shelves or toy bins is relatively simple as is tidying up for ten minutes at the end of the day. Renovating the house or hiring a cleaning service is not so simple.

V — Is it Valuable? It is important that the solution work as intended. It might take a little while for a student to get the hang of using a planner (either paper or electronic) but the end result will be worth the effort — having homework assignments submitted on time.

P — Is it Practical? If a child is always late for school because they are disorganized in the morning, a practical solution would be to prepare as much as possible the night before. Skipping school or having a parent drive the child to school every morning is not practical.

Children who create and implement their own R.S.V.P. organizing solutions, develops self-discipline and confidence. As they grow, they learn to recognize the value of uncluttering and organizing, setting them up to be productive adults.

3 Comments for “Helping kids develop organizing skills”

  1. posted by Lisa on

    When my kids were little, i put their dirty clothes in one main family hamper. As they got older, they put them in the one main hamper. I finally realized that if they each had a hamper in their room, the clothes would not end up on the floor each night.
    When they said they were bored, I said let’s clean your room.
    1- Dirty clothes in the hamper
    2- Garbage in the garbage can
    3- Things to be recycled or given away, including outgrown clothes, in a neat pile outside of their bedroom door

    We made to-scale floor plans of their bedrooms, with cut out to-scale plan-view furniture pieces that they could move around to try out new configurations, and we would discuss the advantages and the flaws- like covering up heating vents, lack of room to walk, etc., and then we could move furniture, vacuum and dust, clean windows, etc.
    They still, as young adults, clean their rooms when they are bored. I even noticed the recycle pile outside my son’s bedroom yesterday, but now he puts it in the recycling bins or the donation box himself.
    When my daughter moved out to her first apartment, it moved me to see her to-scale floorplan she had drawn herself, complete with little paper plan view couch, chairs, and tables.

    If you do it all for them, they never learn to do it for themselves.

  2. posted by Vicki Mate on

    Do you have any suggestions for helping a developmentally disabled adult, with the maturity level of a 12 year old, organize and keep organized his room? I would really, really appreciate your help.

  3. posted by Lisa on

    I have some ideas, maybe you have tried all these things already-
    Do you have a labelmaker? Can he read? How about labeling, either with words or with a picture, the shelves or cupboards where things belong?
    We do this at work in common areas for things like office supplies.
    Are you familiar with the Board Maker program?
    This is the program they use at the school district where I work for making visual reminders for students.
    When my kids were little, I made my own “Mama Bear’s Morning List” of the 10 things my kids needed to do in the morning before they were allowed to turn the TV on before we left for school. I used a picture symbol for each activity, like tooth-brushing, putting dirty clothes in hamper, etc.
    I imagine you could make something like that. Then, the List is doing the reminding, not you. If one more thing gets done than usually would be, it is a victory.
    Is there any way to make it a fun activity?
    At work, I helped a child make folders to keep his school work organized. I let him type out the labels in the labelmaker, and press print to watch the labels spew out of the labelmaker, and he did a great job. I had him pick the colours of the folders for each subject, and he was far more interested in the organizing process because he had power over the decisions. Who doesn’t like to pick colours?
    Get him to help pick the spot in his room where each item will have a “home”. Colour-code the areas, and you could even paint a coloured dot on each item that goes in that area. You could take a photo of each area with all the things neatly in the area, then put up that photo by the area, and he would have a visual reminder of what goes there.
    Good luck! I look forward to seeing other responses, and if you find anything that helps

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