Commentary by Cynthia Stafford
Battling with a disorganized child is frustrating. Controlled by the brain’s frontal lobe, the ability to be organized depends on executive function, the set of mental skills that helps you get things done. Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child points out children aren’t born with these mental skills, but they are born with the potential to develop them. If children are not exposed to orderliness in their environments and their relationships with adults, they may not develop abilities to properly plan or self-regulate, and may become disorganized.
Executive function develops over time in typical children, according to Michael Delman, founder of Beyond BookSmart, an executive function coaching company. Since organizational skills develop throughout childhood, parents of younger kids can strengthen these skills by making expectations clear and supporting good habits, like putting toys away or keeping backpacks neat. When teaching their child to be organized, parents can break tasks down into very small steps and pay attention when the child is trying to comply or do things independently. Child Mind Institute’s Beth Arky encourages parents to notice when a child is successful, then praise them for those successes.
Although messy desks may indicate creative minds, they don’t necessarily mean school success, because organizational skills are directly related to the development of many academic skills. “(O)rganization and planning help students to write down their homework, remember to do it and return it to class the next day. Executive skills such as task initiation, sustained attention and task persistence are necessary for starting and completing long-term projects,” said Dr. Randy Kulman, founder and president of LearningWorks for Kids.
Remember that elementary school teacher who was always telling her students to get organized? Perhaps that teacher needs an award for valor on the battlefield of impulse versus executive function.