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August 2021 Question of the Month: My child is capable, but struggling to get organized as this school year begins! How can I provide support?

08/31/2021 11:47 AM | Anonymous

My child is capable, but struggling to get organized as this school year begins! How can I provide support?

As the new school year begins, it can be concerning to parents when “missing homework” notices are already accumulating, forgotten lunches are already growing fuzzy mold, and crumpled, unsigned parent permission slips line the bottom of our children’s backpacks. Also, it can be both frustrating and perplexing to observe that our academically capable, talented children struggle with the simple day-to-day tasks of keeping organized.

Despite their strengths, for a wide variety of reasons, many gifted and advanced learners can also struggle with executive functioning. Some children may be twice-exceptional, others may be distracted by their own interests or learning agenda. Sometimes, these struggles surface when children experience a major change in routine, such as returning to school from remote learning, or taking on new extracurricular or academic commitments and challenges. Children may feel overwhelmed upon discovering that they can no longer “coast” with the same routines and habits that once worked for them in less rigorous and/or more familiar settings.

As parents, we want to support our children through these challenges. Yet, by taking responsibility upon ourselves, we may be enabling continued reliance rather than empowering our children to take ownership. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:

  • Let your child create his or her own system for organizing. To provide “buy in” and ownership, challenge your child to design and use his or her own systems to keep organized. Suggestions such as placing post-it notes on the desk, keeping colored folders, or stacking homework on the kitchen counter the night before school may be helpful. But rather than insist that your child adopt your system, let your child create a plan to complete and turn in assignments. Ask your child to explain this plan to you and help your child to create a “checklist” to self-assess whether her daily plan is fulfilled.
  • Include your child’s classroom teacher. Depending upon your child’s needs, age, and grade level, encourage your child to discuss his/her organization plan with his or her teacher. Talking through the plan can help your child to internalize it and to take ownership. Moreover, your child’s teacher may have suggestions to help align the plan with your child’s classroom needs and learning goals. Note that although you may wish to help your child arrange a meeting with the teacher and/or participate, encourage your child to communicate the plan and initiate the conversation to the extent possible.
  • Start small. Organizational habits take time to develop. If your child is struggling with executive functioning in several areas or course subjects, choose one place to start. Build on success by expanding “what works” for your child to different subjects and areas as the year continues.
  • Make, share, and discuss calendars. With a variety of new activities and commitments that come with a new school year, it can be challenging for both adults and children to visualize when they will have time to “fit in” all responsibilities. A household calendar that is visible to all family members can help everyone to communicate and stay aware of one another’s commitments. You may also wish to help your child keep and share a weekly calendar that includes personal plans, extracurricular activities and school work.
  • Limit activities and commitments. Sometimes a child’s organizational struggles may signal that he or she is overwhelmed with too many commitments. Once your child’s calendar is made, review activities together. How much time does your child have each day to complete homework, socialize with friends, enjoy family time, sleep, and/or have the opportunity to recharge or devote to individual interests and activities? If an overwhelming schedule suggests that activity “pruning” is needed, discuss this with your child, listen carefully, and help your child to prioritize and choose a few activities that are most meaningful to him or her.
  • Set goals and make a plan to check in on progress. When creating an organizational plan, set dates to “check in” on success. At first, you may wish to check progress every day or two. As your child adjusts, a weekly or bi-weekly check in may be established. A simple goal-setting chart that defines what the teacher, parent, and child can do to help a child succeed is also a useful tool for clarifying responsibilities and checking in on progress as the weeks go by.
  • Reflect daily and celebrate incremental progress. Is your child’s organization system working? Are there changes/adjustments in scheduling that need to be made? Be sure to take time to touch base with your child daily, celebrate success, and help your child “problem solve” when necessary.

Helping your child develop executive functioning skills and manage time, assignments, and responsibilities can be challenging and require patience. Although it may seem easier to take the helm when things get rough, supporting our child in a way that empowers them to take charge may help to set a course for a smoother voyage in the long run.

Additional reading:

Cash, Richard M. (2016). Self-Regulation in the Classroom. Golden Valley, MN: Free Spirit Press.

Dawson, P. & Guare, D. (2009). Smart But Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach Their Potential. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Kaleel, M. & Kircher-Morris, E. “Gifted Learners and Executive Functioning,” NAGC Website.


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