So you’ve tried to help your messy kids be more organised so that you could stop arguing over clutter and tardiness and restore a more harmonious atmosphere at home, but haven’t got much luck so far. Let me guess… You’ve tried to appeal to their common sense, it hasn’t worked. You’ve tried to threaten and remove privileges, it has worked for a while but it all started all too soon again… So how?! Below are the 5 most common mistakes I see parents make – and have caught myself making at times!! – when it comes to trying to get their messy kids more organised and what can be done instead.
MISTAKE 1 | Starting without a valid reason from the child’s perspective
Telling a child “you must get organised” is not going to work even if you come up with very valid reasons to do so. She might agree to do something about the clutter or her lack of punctuality (if you’re lucky!) but if she’s not self-motivated, it’ll be difficult for her to get going.
Instead… Have a discussion with your child. Adopt a non-judgemental attitude. Help her develop awareness of what her disorganisation is costing her. Look for a point of leverage i.e. what would be the value for her (not for you!) in getting organised.
Getting Little Miss 11-year old to be on time for her morning school bus pick-up was achieved by carving 5 minutes out in her morning routine for her to style her hair (something she was desperate to do) once she had shown that she could consistently be on time for 3 weeks.
MISTAKE 2 | Organising for your child
Organising is about establishing processes and systems that are going to work for the individual based on his/her needs, habits and preferences. Imposing our own ways onto others, including our messy kids, is unlikely to work in the long term because they might not suit them or they might just resist them.
Instead… Involve your child in the organising process and help her build a system that takes her preferences into consideration.
Getting Little Mr. 10 to put his dirty clothes in the laundry basket involved moving the laundry basket from the bathroom where his mum had placed it to his bedroom where he was getting undressed.
MISTAKE 3 | Letting your child organise herself
At the opposite end of the spectrum, some parents just expect their messy kids to solve the problem on their own. But wouldn’t the child have already solved the problem had she had the skills?
Instead… Volunteer your help to your child, but make sure to respect her decisions. If organising is not one of your strengths or if you feel you may lack patience or detachment (don’t blame yourself, it’s pretty natural), engage the help of a professional organiser like myself who will bring not only the skills but also sensitivity to your family’s situation.
MISTAKE 4 | Jumping to your child rescue as soon as she fails
I have to confess that it used to be difficult for me to see a bag of dirty soccer clothes left unattended. I had to resist the urge to pick it up and deal with it. But if I had done so, my son would have very quickly and happily delegate this responsibility to me. Same with being mindful of the time in the morning for the school bus pick-up. If I had kept reminding him of the time, he would just have relied on me – even though he didn’t like to be reminded of the time!
Instead… Give them a chance to learn from their mistakes by bearing the consequences of their decisions and actions. Make sure the rest of your household, including your helper, acts accordingly.
So what does it mean in the context of the examples provided above? Well the soccer bag had to stay untouched until my son decided to attend to it. If he didn’t put the dirty clothes into the laundry basket, they wouldn’t get washed and he’d have to wear dirty and smelly clothes or explain to his coach why he couldn’t wear his kit. As for being mindful of the time, well if he missed the school bus, he’d have to take the public bus which would make him late for school or pay for the taxi fare out of his pocket money.
It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings. Ann Landers
MISTAKE 5 | Expecting perfection
If you expect perfection from your child, it might stop her in her tracks if she believes she can’t live up to your expectations. Also it’s unrealistic to expect your messy kids to change overnight. As in many other areas, it does take practice to find a system that’s going to work for them and it takes about 4 weeks for a new habit to kick in.
Instead… Don’t try to change things all at once, but start small. Focus on the progress they’re making. Reward them appropriately when they’ve achieved a milestone.
It’s certainly not easy to get a child’s cooperation when it comes to getting organised especially if you don’t take into consideration her own needs and quickly jump to her rescue. So be patient and celebrate small successes when they happen and build onto them. Good luck! And do leave a comment below to share what has worked for you. We all surely can benefit from them!
Get organised and make room for life!
This article was first published on Young Parents website.