“Oh darling child of mine! What is difficult about remembering to put your lunch box in the kitchen every single day, after school, instead of leaving it to rot in your backpack?”
Blank look. They’re wondering if it’s a trick question. “Nothing?”
“Right! Nothing! So how about trying it for a change?”
Sound familiar? I’ll bet it does, at some level or other.
At every stage of their lives, kids are messy. It’s a fact that can be forgiven when they are babies, even toddlers. At some point however, it is time for the kids to adopt a system to stay organized and actually follow it. While you can model good habits and get things going as early as age 2, it’s probably not realistic to expect much before age 5.
© organized kids image via Shutterstock
Easier said than done, you say, but there are a few interesting ways you can help set them on the path to organizational success!
1. Put a limit on the stuff
This seems obvious but there has to be a point where before more stuff can come into the house, some stuff has to go out. Establish a routine of quarterly sorting sessions where you help your child go through their toys and books, to decide what they don’t play with anymore. Some can be donated, or host a yard sale with partial proceeds going to the charity of their choice and the rest going into a savings jar for that special item that they have been wanting for a while.
If there are ‘keepsakes’ that your kids steadfastly refuse to part with, you can limit those too by designating one storage box, or shelf, for those items. If it fits, it can stay. If your kids aren’t sure they can part with something but you’re pretty sure that they only reason they’re crying over it is because you pointed it out in the first place, store it out of sight for a month. If they haven’t asked for it after the month goes by, it can go.
2. Everything has a place and that place is not the floor
Help them set up storage—the dollar store is GREAT for this—and clearly mark what goes into each box, either with labels or photos (for pre-readers). Remind them that their screen time (or whatever ‘treat’ they covet the most) is tied to keeping things off the floor and in the places they are supposed to be. It will take a while before the habits kick in, but when video game time is at stake, they will find the motivation. For smaller kids, make sure that the high usage toys are on reachable shelves so they can be put away as easily as they were taken down.
TIP: Large toy boxes are best avoided. It’s too easy to toss everything in there and close the lid. Nothing ever gets played with again and it never seems to get sorted. Better to use see through boxes with easy to remove lids, or storage baskets on shelves.
3. Homework stations to go
Not every home has a centrally located designated space that can be permanently designated for homework so get a plastic basket with a handle and create a portable homework station. Once your child is done working at the dining table for the day, they can pack up and put all their things in a designated spot on a shelf, ready to go the next day but out of the way so you can eat dinner without accidentally trying to pick up your peas with a glue stick!
4. Make routines visual
Kids need constant reminders, at first, when establishing a new routine but that reminder doesn’t always need to come in the form of your voice. A well placed whiteboard with the daily routine on it is a great way for kids to hold themselves accountable and to know what’s coming up next. For example, in the early school years, it was necessary to remind my child to go to the bathroom before heading out for school. Every. Single. Day. I got sick of saying it so I added “pee stop” to the morning routine board. A quick glance on the way out of the kitchen was all the reminder she needed, after a while.
Lists aren’t just for groceries
As with the whiteboard, sometimes a visual list to get a specific task accomplished is the best way to see it done without your having to interfere. For example? Packing their backpacks for a trip. Work with them, if they are younger, to make a list and then have them pack based on the list. Ticking things off the list is a satisfying feeling, no matter how old you are!
5. With responsibility comes power
Okay, the actual quote is “With great power comes great responsibility” and Voltaire said it first. For our purposes however, we need to invert that and remember that most kids will step up to an appropriate level of responsibility when they realize that they are being granted power over some decisions. Your child doesn’t want to do homework when they come home from school, but rather a little later, at 5 o’clock? Fine. Let them make that choice. So long as it gets done that way. The minute it doesn’t, they lose some of their decision making power.
What are some your tried and true ways of keeping your kids organized?