Keep Calm and Clear the Clutter: Four Simple Steps for Raising Organised Kids

You know the “there are two kinds of people in the world” trope, don’t you? It can pretty much be applied to any characteristic, skill, or inclination, but it never feels truer than when your kids’ personalities start to emerge — and you discover that somehow you’ve given birth to a creature who’s your complete opposite.

Take organisation, for example. If you live by the credo “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” it can be incredibly frustrating when your child is content to toss every belonging willy-nilly onto his or her dresser — or worse, the floor.

The problem could be bigger than an unkempt room, however. Poor or underdeveloped organisational skills won’t simply mean that your kid is messy; they can make it difficult for a child to manage his or her time, plan ahead, follow through on projects or activities, or keep track of essential items like homework, house keys, electronics, or even favourite toys.

While some people are naturally more inclined toward order than others (lookin’ at you, Virgos), you can teach your child basic techniques for conquering the chaos. Here are four simple hacks that will help them adopt a system — and help you keep your sanity.

Break Tasks into Steps

Remember the last time you learned something new? Chances are you weren’t able to complete the entire process in one smooth, error-free fell swoop. Instead, you took it one step at a time, mastering the first component before moving to the second, and so on.

Help your child master the whole by clearing defining each part. For example, rather than telling him or her to “get ready for school” 15 minutes before it’s time to leave, you will want to first specify that he or she needs to eat breakfast. Then, step by step, prompt them to put their dishes into the dishwasher, brush their teeth, find and put on their shoes, place their folders into their backpack…you get the idea.

After a while, your child will start to grasp what individual steps go into “getting ready” and be able to take them independently. In the meantime, remember that it’s your job to give instructions, and then reminders, without getting impatient.

Make Checklists or Use Chore Charts

One invaluable way to help your son or daughter remember what actions need to be taken, and provide positive feedback when they’re completed? Make checklists. This could mean using a chore-tracking app or going old-school with pen and paper or poster board and gold stars; it depends on what you and your child prefer. Some people simply do better with a hard copy, while others respond well to digital bells and whistles.

Similarly, you can choose to recognise completion of chores and checklists with rewards, or simply make them part of the day’s activities. Even just ticking off a box with a pencil or applying a sticker to a chart can be a surprisingly effective method of positive reinforcement.

Provide Storage Solutions They’ll Want to Use

Tired of nagging your child to pick up their room — only to find it trashed all over again in a few days (or even hours)? The next time you enter their space, look around and be objective. Are there enough containers and shelves to store all that stuff? Your daughter or son could be overwhelmed by how many items there are, and how few places to put it all.

“It’s truly astounding how much mess kids can make, but it’s not their fault,” says Peter Goldberg, founder of decor boutique Bouclair. “They just don’t have the skills they need to contain themselves and their stuff. Help them out by setting them up with an easy-to-maintain organisation system.”

Try shopping online together for these storage solutions. There’s a huge range of options — baskets, bins, crates, hampers, and shelving — to suit any style. Some of these hide the clutter away, while others provide visibility to help younger children see at a glance what goes where.

Don’t Nag — Use Positive Prompts Instead

Speaking of nagging, stop. Behavioural psychologists say that not only doesn’t it work, it can actually work against your intentions. When you badger your children (or your spouse, for that matter!) you sound like the parents from Peanuts specials, and all they hear is “Wah-wah, wah-wah, wah-wah.”

Instead, try “positive prompts.” That’s really just a fancy term for being kind and respectful when you ask others to do something. Rather than berating them, using guilt or shame to coerce children into action, or raising your voice, take these steps:

  • If you’re talking to a toddler or little kid, or someone who’s sitting on the floor or in a low chair, get down to their level.
  • Get their attention. Make sure they stop what they’re doing (read: look up from the device they’re glued to), and look them in the eye.
  • Preface the request with “please.”
  • Explain why they need to comply, or what the consequences of ignoring you will be (“After you put away your toys, we can go to the park,” or “If you don’t put in a load of laundry, your favorite leggings won’t be clean for you to wear to Bridget’s birthday party”).
  • Offer to help if appropriate and necessary.
  • Say “thank you” after they have completed the task.

Pretty simple, huh?

It may take some patience and practice to stop nagging, to teach your children to break chores into steps, and to monitor their use of charts or lists, but it’s worthwhile. In the long run you will not only see better results, you’ll be building a happier home, establishing a stronger relationship with your kids, and helping them develop into capable, organised adults.