Prepare Children for What You Want: Teach Them to Organize

On this site there are numerous entries on organizing stuff, and some writings about organizing people.  I felt the need to mention teaching children to get organized on this site, because I know how difficult it can be to manage them.  I have four myself, a past with working and teaching children, and years of experience reading and writing about subject matters related to parenting. 

When it comes to organizing children, you have to keep in mind the following:  they will not listen or catch on right away to what you want (most often to any instruction especially if they don't see any benefit,) they will want to find ways to manipulate you into giving in to their every whim, they are inconsistent, and most of all, they will play adults against one another so that their needs will be met and not yours.  Now with these points in mind, let's start organizing the children shall we.

Before you start planning time to teach children to organize, you might want to talk with others in the household.  You want them to be supportive.  Explain what the benefits are if the children will listen and follow-through with your instructions.  Maybe the garage needs cleaning or maybe the children are often late to school, whatever the issue, something or someone needs to get organized, so do express your concerns to the adult family members.

First, you will want to state your purpose for getting the children involved in your organizing task.  What exactly is it that you want to do?  Do you plan on moving, vacationing, taking them to grandma's house, or do you just want to get them organized in such a way that your household runs smoothly?  With each goal you set, you will have to tweak your schedules to meet your needs.

State the problem and give your children the solution.  You can use visual aids to help make your point or use past examples like, "Remember the last time we got ready to go to the restaurant and you couldn't find your shoes, and your brother took too long looking for his toy, so we ended up having to wait so long for our food?  Well this is why we need to change some things around here and get out the house sooner, okay?"

Let's say, bedtime is a problem and your goal is to get them in bed sooner.  You personally believe children need a consistent bedtime, but someone in the household doesn't care when they go to bed.  A tired child is a fussy and argumentative child.  Cite examples of this behavior that might have led to some strict discipline from your or someone in the household. State the benefits of why certain things must be done in the evening and in the morning to alleviate some of the late nights and irritable moods.  If you know there is a long trip ahead, school event, doctor's appointment, or something else, it would make sense to be sure the child is well-rested.  However, do not expect too much from your son or daughter if you have permitted him or her to stay up all night before a trip or event in the hopes that he or she will sleep at some point--that won't happen without a fight.  In a situation like this, you will have to manage time.  Scale back the typical late bedtime by 5 or 10 minutes each day until you reach the desired time.  Warn the child well in advance when it is time to go to bed.  Sometimes I use a clock with a warning bell when it is getting close to bed time.  The children are expected to start cleaning up.  Post a note to remind everyone when Jack or Jill is supposed to be in bed.  If you are going to be busy for any reason, remind the adult in your child's care to be sure Jack or Jill is in bed.  Plan baths/showers earlier as well as snack times.

Next, what tools will you need to accomplish your task?  Older children will work with you if they can see what you mean.  So note everything you plan to do in a simple way.  List steps, draw a grid, or create pictures.  Meet with the children and post your intentions.  Will this be a task done daily or on select days?  Note the days and times.  This way there is no question when he or she is supposed to help out. 

Third, introduce each task gradually.  Consider this, you wouldn't want someone dumping a bunch of instructions on your lap, while never taking the time to explain each one.  Work with your child.  Get him or her to show you what he or she has learned based on what you have said.  For example, you want an older child to help out more around the house.  So you provide the tools like cleaning products, a bucket, gloves and a rag, you let him or her see you use the tools first.  Then you watch your son or daughter for awhile until he or she does the task to your satisfaction.  Don't be so quick to walk away from your child without taking him or her through several trainings or more.  Compliment your child each time he or she gets better at performing each instruction.

Four, award exceptional efforts.  A child will most likely appreciate doing what you ask, even more, if you promise to do something nice for him or her and stick by what you say.

Lastly, introduce other things that will make the household or elsewhere look and feel more comfortable.  Continue to teach them on how to use certain tools.  Encourage them to watch you and others.  Share Internet videos of children their age doing similar things.  Show them what the end result of each task is supposed to look like.  For example, if you want a clean and organized bathroom, you will show them different items that help them sort and organize.  Arrange for a store visit and explain what each tool for your project does to further their understanding.

The following is a list of things that children can do to help with organizing your environment:

1.  Vacuum

2.  Dust

3.  Clean items ie. ) dishes, walls, doors, tables, windows, etc.

4.  Sort

5.  Place items on shelf units.

6.  Hold things steady while you build.

7.  Hang up items (older children).

8.  Pick up things.

9.  Suggest colors, patterns, prints, tools etc.

10.  Read material and watch videos for ideas.

Take what you have learned when it comes to organizing and share tips with your child.  Walk with him or her to each room of your household and outdoors and point out problem areas.  Get feedback from him or her.  Ask, "how might you organize this room?  What tools do you think we need?  Draw a plan and then share it with me."

Children can do many activities that can be beneficial to the household if only they are taught by someone who is willing to show them. With school breaks and seasonal vacations, these are prime opportunities to introduce something new to your children. When you teach children how to become organized, they will remember when they are older your tips.

Nicholl Mcguire is the author of When Mothers Cry.

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