Is your child a hot mess morning, noon, and night? Does he regularly leave a trail of forgotten socks, sweatshirts, and sports gear behind him? Does she forget her lunch, permission slips, and after-school commitments? Is his room a disaster? Does she run out of time before bed to finish her homework, take a shower, and read?
There’s a simple way you can help your disorganized child learn how to be more organized, according to adolescent psychologist John Duffy. The author of The Available Parent: Expert Advice for Raising Successful and Resilient Teens and Tweens, Duffy says that instead of reminding your child all the time, which adds to the stress and chaos, sit down with your child and talk about a typical weekday. Make a list — in order — of all of the things your child needs to remember to make the day go smoothly. If mornings are difficult, the list might include tasks like get dressed, eat breakfast, wash face, brush teeth, brush hair, leave for school. In the evening, the list might include things like do homework, clean up dinner dishes, pack backpack for the next day, shower, read.
If you can, laminate the list. Post it on the refrigerator and give your child a dry erase marker so they can check off the things they did.
Kids like to put a check mark next to something, Duffy says, and if parents want to offer a reward, maybe for checking off most of the items for five days in a row, that can help, too.
“The idea here is establishing new habits,” Duffy says. It can take between three weeks and a month to establish a new habit, he says, “but for kids it’s even easier. If you can get them on a regimen for a few weeks, the new habits will fall into place.”
Best of all, instead of nagging, you can just ask your child, have you checked your list?
“It’s empowering and teaches kids to organize themselves instead of parents having to give constant reminders,” Duffy says.
It’s the kind of self-reliance and self-sufficiency that all kids need to learn, but that can be difficult to teach. Luckily, this surprising simple method is highly effective, says Duffy.