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Why Children Struggle With Organisation

Children can be disorganised for many reasons

Many of them have messy rooms and cluttered backpacks. Most will eventually clean up and organize their stuff because they can’t take the mess or are tired of looking for things (or because they’re told to do it).


But what if your child never cleans up and puts things away, no matter what you say or do? You may wonder what is going on.


Some people see kids who are disorganized and assume they are being lazy or defiant. But many kids really do struggle with organization and all the skills that go into it.  


Read on to find out why some children  have trouble with organization, and what can help.                   

Organization Challenges You Might Be Seeing

People sometimes think that being organized is just about being neat. That’s certainly part of it, but organisation is more than just keeping track of your things. It is also about organizing your thoughts, managing your time, planning, and knowing how to get things done.


Children who struggle with this skill may have trouble:

  • Setting goals

  • Estimating how long things take and keeping track of time

  • Knowing how to start and complete tasks

  • Doing things in the right order

  • Setting priorities and knowing what’s most important

  • Creating schedules

  • Making decisions


At home, that can lead to:

  • Taking a long time to get dressed in the morning and get ready for bed

  • Forgetting to take important items back and forth from school, like homework

  • Forgetting to gather the right materials for an assignment or project

  • Not keeping things in a regular place so they’re easy to find

  • Struggling to think about, or do, more than one thing at a time

  • Having trouble telling a story in a logical way


There is a lot that goes into being organized. Here is an example of what trouble with organization can look like.


The science fair is coming up soon, but your child can’t think of any ideas. You throw out some suggestions, but your child gets angry and rejects them all. Later that day, your child decides to use one of your ideas, but after five minutes of trying to figure out how to do it, he gives up, saying the project is stupid.


You sit down together and lay out all the steps. But your child still puts off starting the project, saying there is plenty of time and that there is other work to do. The other work is something your child enjoys, and he gets lost in it.


The science project gets left to the last minute, and your child spends most of the time trying to find materials. The end result is sloppy work that doesn’t show what your child actually knows about the topic.


Every step in this example required organisation skills. And there are lots of reasons kids can struggle with these skills.

What Can Cause Trouble With Organisation


Having difficulty with organisation typically isn’t about laziness.  In the above example, the child wasn’t being lazy. In scenarios like those, children are having difficulty prioritizing, organising, and following through.


People sometimes judge children for behaviour they don’t understand. When children are struggling, it can be a blow to their self-esteem and being judged can make that even worse.  


When young children have a hard time with organisation, it may just be a matter of development. Kids develop organization skills at different rates. Some may be ahead of other kids their age, while others are behind.


Not getting enough sleep can impact how well kids can focus and stay organised. Getting your grade-schooler or tween on a healthy sleep schedule can help. There are also steps you can take for helping your child (and you) get a good night’s sleep.


Organisation is part of a group of skills known as executive functions. Some children struggle with one or more of these skills. Children with ADHD have trouble with executive function, including organization.


There are a few other factors that can impact focus and organisation, too. These include stress, anxiety, and trauma.


What Can Help With Trouble With Organization

There are a lot of ways you can help. First, let your child know there’s nothing to feel bad about, and that you don’t think your child is “messy” or “sloppy.” It also helps children to hear two things. First, that you know they want to be more organised. And second, that you’re going to find ways to help.


An important first step is to look for patterns. In what ways is your child disorganised?  When do you notice these difficulties the most? Take notes on what you are seeing at home. You can share those observations with the teacher and find out if the teacher is noticing the same things at school.


Your child’s teacher is a great source of ideas, information, and suggestions. So are other parents and caregivers who can share their organisation tips.

  • Learn about tools your teen can use to keep organized, and strategies for grade-schoolers.

  • Watch a short video on how to color-code your child’s school supplies.

  • Get tips for organizing your child’s backpack.


Another way to help your child is to talk about strengths. It’s important to remind children about what they are good at, and to give them examples of when they were very organised and really got things done. Tell your child that you understand the struggles are real and that you will work together to use strengths to improve trouble spots.


No matter what is causing your child’s trouble with organisation, there are lots of ways to help your child improve organisational skills.

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