10 Tips For Getting A Disorganized Child To Be Organized

Picture yourself around the time your child is leaving for school. Imagine that his bag isn’t packed, his homework is missing, and the school bus will be arriving any minute. Think of yourself finding the lost assignment and rushing your child out the door, only to realize that his lunch is still sitting on the table. If this sounds all too familiar to you, then you have a disorganized child. Of course you already knew that. But what you may not know is why your child is disorganized.

Disorganized children tend to struggle with something called Executive Functioning. It’s possible you’ve even heard that term before, though many parents don’t know what exactly it refers to.

Executive functioning describes a person’s ability to manage themselves and the resources around them in order to accomplish a given task. It refers to areas such as planning, organization, and focus. Children who frequently lose things, have trouble keeping their workspace tidy, and sometimes forget tasks altogether likely struggle with executive functioning. This can make a child’s school day extremely difficult, and have a negative impact on his (or her) academic success.

Children that just can’t seem to get organized are likely to feel stressed about school, and it’s possible that anxiety has carried over to you as the parent as well. That’s why the Where I Can Be Me® team has put together these helpful tips for getting your child organized and on the track for success at school:

  1. Leave plenty of time for planning: Help your child break the habit of doing things last minute by working together and preparing for tasks in advance. Each evening, with your child, make sure his school bag is packed and ready for the next morning. Make sure he has his books, band instrument, cleats for sport’s practice, and/or whatever supplies and equipment he’ll need for the next day waiting in a designated spot before bedtime.
  2. Make an organizational plan: Talk to your child about tricks he finds useful for keeping focused and organized. Let him be involved in drawing up an organizational plan. Every child is different, and no plan will work perfectly for everyone, so be aware of the things your child specifically needs and is asking for. The plan can always be tweaked later on if necessary.
  3. Be Consistent: Schedule homework assignments for the same time every day. Always keep important papers, books, etc. in the same spot. Make organization a routine that your child gets in the habit of keeping.
  4. Emphasize Prioritization: Teach your child to prioritize by setting up a bulletin board for his most important papers and assignments. Make this the place to keep the things that need special attention. This will not only help him to prioritize his most important tasks, but will make keeping track of big assignments much easier.
  5. Beware of the backpack trap: The trap many disorganized students fall into is a tendency to use their backpacks as a storage container for unnecessary clutter. Set a weekly time to clear out your child’s backpack, and repack it with the understanding that its purpose is for transporting school supplies only. Candy wrappers, crumpled up scrap paper, and old handouts don’t make the cut!
  6. Color Code: Give each of your child’s academic subjects its own color for folders, binders, and supply cases. This is especially helpful if your child attends different classes on different days.
  7. Introduce an agenda: Even adults-even organized adults- use agendas to keep track of all the things they have to do. Agendas are great tools for helping all of us remember the many tasks that need completing. Have your child cross off the tasks in his agenda as he completes them.
  8. Allow for baby-steps: A big, time-consuming task can be overwhelming, especially for a child who needs motivation. Help your child make more efficient progress by breaking big projects, assignments, or tasks up into a series of smaller tasks. Add those small tasks to his agenda so he can feel a sense of accomplishment as he crosses them off.
  9. Plan for non-academic tasks: Set up a calendar of all the non-school related activities/tasks your child has in store for the week, such as sport’s practice, play rehearsal, chores, and playdates. Have him help you fill the calendar so he will see when each event is coming up. (Try not to overschedule!!)
  10. Plan for mistakes: Even the most organized among us still make mistakes, lose important items, and forget things. Help your child damage control by making copies of homework, keeping a second supply of textbooks at the house, or anything else your child might need. Make sure these things don’t become an excuse to be unprepared. They’re just there if needed in a pinch!

Now remember, while sometimes it may be faster and easier to do things for your child, it does not help over the long run. In fact, it will make matters worse because it teaches him that you’ll do it and that he doesn’t need to. That’s why it is important to take the extra time now to teach your child how to get organized for himself. Not only will this make your life easier over the long-term, it will also will help him be happier and more successful in the future. When this happens everybody wins.


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More