We've all been there. The kids are doing homework when one of them suddenly gets a guilty look. "I forgot my workbook," she says, and you really have to fight the instinct to tear your hair out, because it's the third time this week -- and it's only Wednesday.
The next morning as you're getting ready to head out the door, you hear, "Oh, yeah, I forgot. My piano lesson is switched to today. Can you pick me up after school?"
Sometime around the third grade, your kids get these lives of their own. They've got homework and after-school activities and sports and music and friends, and you're not there all the time anymore. But unless your kids were born organized or you've made an actual effort to teach them organization skills, they have no idea how to handle everything they need to do.
Start from scratchIf you've never taught your kids how to be organized, you have to start at the beginning. When you're both calm and relaxed -- like on a weekend morning -- sit down and brainstorm with your child. "How can we help you remember everything you need to do?" Try to get your child to take ownership of the idea of writing things down. Consider going to the 99-cent store together to purchase a special notebook or a weekly planner. And then sow your child exactly how to make a list and work through it.
Be creative. If you have a child with OT issues who has a hard time writing, print up a form on the computer so that she can just check off boxes. Your form might list all your child's school subjects with a checkbox and a blank line for each. Check the box and jot the page numbers. Then, at the end of the day, she needs to run through the list and bring home the checked books.
Set up systemsOf course, that means your child has to remember to check the list at the end of the day, so set her up for success. Put up a brightly colored note in your child's locker or a special backpack tag with a reminder. Or dig out your old electronic organizer and teach your child to set up a daily alarm for the end of the school day. "When you hear the beep, check your list."
Enlist your child's teacher for help. There's a good chance none of the kids n the class have learned about real organization, so maybe the teacher can show them how to use their school-provided planners and manage their time effectively.
Stay focusedYou're not going to overhaul your kid's internal wiring in a week. So if you're worried about homework coming home and getting done, don't freak out if your child's room is still messy. First, work on the homework. When your child is consistently remembering to bring home his work, then move on to taking 10 minutes daily to organize his bedroom and choose clothes for the next day.
Use the same strategies that worked before -- whether it's a sticky note on the bathroom mirror or another reminder in the electronic organizer, you'll find the system that your child responds to. Milk it for all it's worth.
Reward successAs you encourage your child on the path to organization, look for natural rewards. "Hey, we didn't waste any time looking for your math homework, so we've got time to head over to the park for an hour." "You finished that book report two days early. Is there another book you'd like to go buy to read for fun?" "Wow, you've been practicing your music every day. Is there a fun song you'd like to learn how to play?"
When you and your child work together to organize your lives, you'll find that great things can happen.