Back to School with STYLE: Guidelines for Organizing with Kids

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Organizing by Style

Organizing with kids can be a blast. Or it can be a nightmare. They can bring enthusiasm and great ideas to the process, or they can dig their heels in and pout.

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It’s tough. No one likes to work on something that’s hard for them. And most kids who struggle with organization feel a lot like we adults who are organizational works-in-progress. Embarrassed. Self-conscious. Wondering why the rest of the world “gets it” and they don’t.

It’s important to keep in mind that helping kids get organized is only half the battle. If we don’t help them to develop self-confidence along the way, we may win the battle, but lose the war. If we want to discourage pouting and encourage enthusiasm, we might want to keep a few basic guidelines in mind.

  • Give them ownership. We may think we have the perfect tools, containers or answers for them, but only they know if they’ll really use it. And if they won’t use it, we’ll only end up back where we started…and a little poorer. Help them figure out their styles (but don’t label them — ask them where they think they fit instead) and offer suggestions, but let them have the final say. It won’t work every time, but getting organized is a learning process. We sometimes learn as much from what doesn’t work as we do from what does.
  • Give them a budget. Because this is a learning process, there’s no sense breaking the bank on the first tool that comes to mind. Dollar bins and dollar stores are full of great stuff. When I taught lessons to elementary school kids, one of the most sought-after items was a purple cheetah print box with dividers that I got in the dollar bins at Target. I had kids offering to buy it from me! Creative kids are often just as happy coming up with their own solutions (maybe even re-purposing something you already have on hand) and personalizing them.
  • Give them encouragement. Hard as it may be if you’re parent for whom organizing comes easily, try not to judge. They know that cramming papers into a small space, collecting every rock and crayon or dropping their shoes in the middle of the floor isn’t the ideal organizational system. Gently redirect (if you can) and figure out a home and a system that works for both of you. Ask your child where he or she would put things…or, if possible, locate a container in the spot where he or she naturally drops stuff. Notice when something gets put where it belongs, returns home uncrushed and unfolded or can be found when it’s needed. You don’t have to throw a party. A smile will do. Maybe even an acknowledgment or a hug, if that works for both of you.
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  • Give them a timer. When you’re a kid, fifteen minutes on the playground goes by in 30 seconds and fifteen minutes spent organizing takes an hour and a half. Agree on a stopping point — whether it’s in minutes, items put away, or a bite-sized task completed — and then stick to it. Believe it or not, the kid who’s allowed to stop when the timer goes off just might keep going. For some of us, getting started is the hardest part. If they’re allowed to stop before they get frustrated, it’ll be easier to get them to start the next time.

If you, like me, are an organizational work-in-progress, you get this. It may be hard to stick to when you feel as though the task is insurmountable, but you understand the feelings that come with organizational challenges.

For you fabulous Type A parents who organize as easily as you breathe, this is going to be a challenge. Baby steps are growth, but it takes an awful lot of them to make progress. Start small, involving your child in tasks where success is easy to see — a backpack, a drawer, a bookshelf — and work from there. Better that you hold the reins on some projects and let your child lead on others than that you try to tackle an entire bedroom and end up yelling at each other. No level of organization is worth sacrificing your relationship with your child.

One last thing. When you’ve put your child in charge, don’t go back and re-do what he or she has done. Nothing wrecks confidence faster, not to mention inspiring a complete lack of cooperation the next time around. For your sake as well as your child’s, assist when asked, then walk away.

Much, much easier said (written) than done, but remember, you’re in this for the long haul.

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See all our Back to School with STYLE posts.

Copyright 2015 Lisa Hess
Logo background image:†”Unageek color” by Unageek (2013) via Morguefile. Text added†in Canva.

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About Author

Lisa Lawmaster Hess has contributed articles to local, national and online publications, and is a blogger at The Porch Swing Chronicles, The Susquehanna Writers and here at Catholicmom.com. She is the author of two non-fiction books (Acting Assertively and Diverse Divorce) and two novels, Casting the First Stone and Chasing a Second Chance. A retired elementary school counselor, Lisa is a lecturer in psychology at York College and enjoys singing with the contemporary choir at her church.

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