Creating Order for the Disorganized Child

Many parents talk to me with frustration about their children who strew their things throughout the house and then cannot find what they need when they need it.  Some of these children have ADHD or a learning disability that we know makes it hard for them to organize stuff.  Others are simply immature or undiagnosed.  Whatever the case, it is irritating for parents and children alike for parents to constantly remind children to put things away.

The first step is to get your attitude in shape.  If you are taking this behavior personally, you are probably quite angry about it.  “I didn’t have children to be a maid!”  Of course not.  Deal with your anger.  Accept that your child is not behaving the way you had hoped he would.  It does no good to blame yourself or your child.  When you can calm down, you will be ready to engage your child in some problem solving.

Most children need to be taught systems for keeping things organized.  Children with ADHD and learning problems have brains that find this type of activity quite difficult.  Teaching them requires more repetitions and more patience.  That said, children can be taught to take responsibility for keeping track of their things, even if they have learning disabilities.  They need patient coaching, but they can learn to be responsible.  Don’t give up and become the maid (or butler).

Now you can address the problem.  Try not to solve everything at once.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  What part of the messy chaos disrupts the family the most?  Is it the frantic looking for shoes  and homework in the morning?  Is it the dirty dishes and socks in the family room?  Choose one issue and begin.   At a calm moment start the conversation without blaming.  Blame only makes most children (or teens) feel bad and often want to argue. So describe the problem, “It’s really upsetting for you and me in the morning when you can’t find your things.  Do you have any ideas about what would help?”  Perhaps you child has ideas, but if you are just beginning this process, he or she might not.

Now you can suggest things like having a bin near the door where shoes and boots go.  Or suggest that the last step of homework is to pack the backpack and put it near the door.  If your child resists, listen to her objection and find out why.  This could help develop a solution that is more durable.  Once your child agrees to a new arrangement, you will need to cue her about it.  When she responds to the cue, make sure you praise her.  This is the best way to help a child learn a new behavior.

Good luck with initiating some routines that help your disorganized child stay a little more organized.


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Photo Credit:  Desiree N. Williams on Flickr


6 Responses to “Creating Order for the Disorganized Child”
  1. Nice succinct post abt organizing a house with an ADHD kid!

  2. NIce useful post. It is amazing how disorganization can create emotional havoc for parents. I like this advice to not take it personally, get your own reactions under control and then tackle it step by step in a way a child can understand without blaming them and when they are not stressed. Best, Allison

  3. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks, Kathy. I try to keep it to one idea–I hope that’s more useful. I know that when I’m online I don’t want to read anything too complicated!

  4. dr.cstone says:

    Thanks for your comment, Allison. I think we’ve all been there, whether our kids have ADHD or not. It takes continual maintenance to keep these systems in place as well.

  5. Carolyn,

    I agree with you that *all* parents need the reminder not to take our kids’ behavior personally. We sometimes forget how important our behavior is as a model for our kids, and it’s easy to skip the “get your own emotion and reactions under control” step when you are frustrated. I am a big fan of the practical, down-to-earth suggestions that you share! Thanks.


  6. dr.cstone says:

    Hi Ann,
    Thanks so much for your kind words. It’s so much easier to talk about managing emotions than to do it, but it really pays off.