Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images
Have you ever had one of those days where everything seems to be in the wrong place? Perhaps it starts with the missing car keys. When you finally locate the keys and get everyone out the door and into the car, you realize that the lunches are still in the fridge. Important papers are forgotten, the iPhone is lost in the couch and the whole world starts spinning. It's not a great way to start the day. Now imagine all of that happening, but you're a tween. You're at school, you have no way of getting home to find the lost homework assignment and you have a full day ahead of you. It's hard to cope with all of that when you're stuck in one place for the entire day.
Lack of organization can be a significant source of stress for tweens. Helping tweens learn to take control of organization, on the other hand, can increase independence, responsibility and self-confidence. The trick is to teach tweens to stay organized in a way that is meaningful to them. All too often parents show tweens the so-called "right" way to organize their stuff, only to have the system fail over and over again. All kids are individuals, and they need to learn to organize their belongings and school supplies in a way that will actually work given their unique needs and personalities. The good news is that there are endless possibilities when it comes to organizational systems on the market. Giving your tween the opportunity to look at different systems and find one that appeals to her is always a great place to begin.
Shiny new folders and fancy desk accessories are fun to put to use immediately upon purchase, but it's important to teach tweens to follow certain steps when learning to get organized. Clean first. Teach your kids to clean out the old stuff first. Organizing a desk can be a process, and often kids shove papers and other misplaced items into drawers to disappear for months at a time. Slow down and help your child learn to sort through each item to determine what can go in the trash, what can be repurposed and what is worth saving.
A weekly cleanup is always a great strategy when it comes to organization. While many people save cleanup days for Sundays, I often encourage tweens to clean out their backpacks and desks on Saturday mornings. When they get into the habit of prioritizing organization, they are more likely to stay on top of important assignments and other things that need attention. If they always wait until Sunday afternoon, they might find that they don't have enough time to complete their tasks. Make it a family effort and you'll find that it's easy to develop good habits.
Study space matters
Homework increases as kids grow and having an appropriate study space in the house is essential. While many children prefer working at the kitchen table, it's important to ensure that they have a clean workspace free from clutter, storage for homework supplies and minimal distraction. If the kitchen is the best place to work, clear a drawer to fill with pens, pencils, rulers, erasers and any other supplies frequently used by your child. Do a weekly inventory during your family organization hour to make sure your tween has everything she needs to work independently.
Encourage your tween to try a few different study spaces to find the one that best suits her needs. Remember, studying and TV don't mix. Make sure that appointed study space is free from TV and other electronic distractions (now would be a good time to make one of those “be present” boxes for the iPhones.)
If your tween's school doesn't issue a weekly planner for tracking assignments, buy one. Even with technology at their fingertips, tweens forget things. Alerts on a smartphone are only useful if you pay attention to them. Putting pen to paper by way of a student planner is still the best way to help kids organize their assignments and plan accordingly.
A family wall calendar, or at least a weekly printout of the iCal posted to the fridge, can also be helpful for tweens. In modeling organizational skills, we show our kids how to get started and the importance of continued organization over time.
Developing good organizational habits can be a long process for some tweens. Be sure to recognize success along the way, even the small moments of success, to help your tween stay positive and focused. Setbacks will happen. Assignments will be forgotten and books will be left behind, but those are just minor blips on the screen. Try to remain focused on the big picture and help your tween reevaluate and problem solve when setbacks occur. In doing this, tweens learn to fine tune their organizational skills for the future.