Thursday, 24 November 2011

How to Organise the Un-organisable Child

My middle son, Max, actually does live on another planet. If you asked him about it, he would go into great detail about the culture, language, food and inhabitants of planet Flot. At 7 years old, he sometimes comes back to earth with a bump but usually his brain is on a far higher plane than whether he has remembered to put his jumper on the right way round or not. Not that we are supposed to compare our children, but he has come as somewhat of a shock to me having had Toby, my eldest son, who loves order and relishes activities such as classifying books. Toby's bedroom would pass the extreme regulations of a yelling Sergeant Major, Max's bedroom is an array of clutter.

And so before I can train him to do his own washing or cook the tea, I have to begin to teach him about order and organisation. Leaving home and fending for himself feels like a distant, almost impossible dream. However, slowly but surely we are getting there. I have had many failures so far in teaching him to be organised. Not only is he in a dream world, he is also very stubborn. The two qualities do not help each other out at all. Below I will outline some of my failures and some of my successes and if you have a delicious daydreamer of a child like mine, you can either try out some of the tips yourself or simply know that you are not alone in your frustrations.

Getting Dressed
Although at 7, Max is perfectly capable of dressing himself (and miraculously manages to at weekends), on a bleary eyed school morning this is a difficult task. I have long given up expecting him to find his own clothes from his drawers. Instead, we get his clothes out for the next day the night before and in the morning I pass them to him piece by piece until he has them all on. Sometimes I wonder if he really should have been born into a different era and have his own personal Valet, but I carry on with my task because it gets us out of the door in time for school.

Remembering to Bring Everything Home From School
I have finally had some success with this recently. I set him a challenge (he relishes a challenge) and he exceeded my expectations. After spending the first 2 months of last term sending him back into the classroom to collect his reading book, coat, lunch, letters etc etc, I told him that if he remembered everything every day for a week I would let him stay up later on Friday night. He managed to remember, and even though the challenge has passed, he is still mostly managing to remember.

Remembering to Change His Reading Book
This, along with remembering to give letters to the teacher, hand in homework and anything else he has to do in school without me, has been a tricky one. If I am not there to remind him, he has to do it all himself. I have started to remind him several times on the way to school and not only say it myself, but ask him to repeat what I have said. Here is a typical conversation we might have:

Me: "Max, you've got 2 things to remember today, do you think you can do it?"
Max: "Of course! What are they?"
Me: "You need to change your reading book and you need to give the slip about the trip to the teacher."
Max: "Ok."
Me: "So, what do you need to do?"
Max "I need to change my reading book and I need to give the slip about the trip to the teacher."

This has varying results depending on his mood, but I have found it to be the most helpful so far.

Jobs Around the House
I have to admit that I have avoided these until recently. The battle was just far too great. Unfortunately Toby (rightly) complained that he had loads of jobs and Max didn't have any so I was caught out. We sat all three boys down and had a 'family talk' about all the jobs that need doing in our house, and how mostly I do them all. We talked about working together as a team to get those things done and then we discussed appropriate jobs for each child. We discussed the consequences of not doing those jobs and amazingly, they all seemed to be quite happy to help. Obviously each child is different, but these are the jobs Max is expected to do:
Put his clothes away in his drawers after they have been washed (often they are found scrumpled up into a drawer or he steps on them blindly on his way to bed).
Take it in turns (with Toby) to clear the table and load the dishwasher after tea.
After school, empty his lunchbox and put it by the sink.
Put his dirty washing in the washing basket.
Tidy and hoover his bedroom (ha ha ha ha, need I say more?!)
Mostly, he does them. Often, he needs a gentle reminder. Sometimes, he doesn't do them at all.

More than anything else, the most important factor in teaching him to be more organised has been to praise his efforts, even when they haven't been quite up to my standards. Instead of laughing at his lovely little ways of keeping his head high up in the clouds (although it is something that I love about him very much), I have begun to tell him that he is becoming an organised person. I have praised him for remembering to clean his teeth without being asked. I have told him what a great job he has done of emptying his lunch box every day of the week. I have celebrated with him when he has looked which way round his trousers go on instead of just pulling them on whichever way they arrive in his hand. I have given him a new label of 'organised' and he has risen to it. He has even, dare I say it, enjoyed his organisation on occasion.

So, don't despair. If your child is otherworldly (and you will know what I mean if they are), there is hope. Even if our children will always remain half on our planet and half off, we can still train them to be practical and to organise themselves. I hope.

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