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?
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.