5 tips for teaching your kids about being neat and organized.
What's the secret to raising a well-organized child? Can you teach kids to be organized or do you just hope they'll inherit those skills? Are some kids more prone to clutter, and are others more at ease with clean spaces?
It's safe to say that, while some kids may have more of a natural knack for order, routine coordination doesn't come as easily for everyone. Fortunately, organizational skills can be taught and practiced just like anything else, and can grow over time into productive habits.
Learning the right skills early on will help your children develop the key organizational practices that they'll carry through life. To get your kids started, here are our best methods for developing organizational skills.
Be a Role Model
"Raising a well-organized child is like most things," says Donna Kirkwood, national program director for Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters. "You have to model the behavior that you would like to see." Kids seek guidance first and foremost from their parents. From sorting the laundry to cleaning up those piles of junk mail, they'll pick up on how you organize yourself and then mimic you when they're asked to clean up after themselves.
Education specialist and certified coach Mary Ann Lowry recommends a three-tiered method: first start with a 'do as I do' approach where you introduce an ideal organizational behavior, then move up to a 'do as we do' approach where you and the child practice the ideal organizational behavior together, and finally graduate to the 'you do' level where the child adopts the ideal organizational behavior independently.
Your best bet for instilling life-long coordination practices is to start early. Family therapist Jeff Palitz recommends working on small, age-appropriate organizational challenges at first, like putting away toys or placing dirty clothes in a hamper, and then moving up to more advanced tasks, like helping with chores and sorting personal belongings. Getting "buy-in" from the beginning, he says, can make a big difference in building lasting skills.
Keep It Simple
Make sure to keep it simple when you get going. Take it one step at a time and be sure kids know exactly what's supposed to happen each step along the way. If you decide to start with a cleaning up task, Lowry recommends dividing it up into chunks: instead of asking your child to clean up all of the toys, work on organizing the blocks or putting away the dolls.
Organizing expert Stacy Erickson adds that you want to make sure you have an established place for everything. "If kids don't know where something goes," she says, "they won't be able to put it away." Focus on easy, definitive activities and then be clear about how to complete them.
To reinforce these early lessons, you want to try to foster good organizational habits. The goal is to provide your children with enough guidance while they are young so that they have the right structure, but enough freedom to develop their own routines as they grow up. Sorting blocks will later become folding socks, and organizing coloring books will later become organizing school books. Your aim is to lay the groundwork to set them up for success.
Try to add a little fun to cleanups. Special education teacher Dr. Daria Brezinski recommends picking a favorite song to play when you're doing the chores and singing along. You can also make a game out of organizational challenges, like seeing how fast you can pick up puzzle pieces or Lego blocks. Dr. Brezinski also suggests bringing kids into the kitchen while you're cooking and doing the dishes so that they get used to watching the meal and cleanup process.
Remember that learning a new skill takes time and practice. It's important to be patient with kids as they're working on developing organizational habits. Certainly no one is perfect all of the time. But trying out these methods can help your kids get started on building the early skills to stay organized for life.
How do you teach kids to be organized? Share your secrets in the comments section below.
Tiffany Smith is the director of content and publicity at William Woods University. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And, as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.