You know that kid who has a messy room, backpack, locker? Who loses important papers, books, sports equipment? Who could have straight A’s…if only they remembered to turn in assignments, to bring home their homework, to use their planner?!?!?!?
I have two of those kids.
Having a messy kid is frustrating, but not fatal, and it definitely takes a lot of love, patience, and work for us parents, but we can help our kids who suffer from low executive functioning skills to manage and to do better.
Seek first to be kind to our messy kids
The very first thing we have to do is… get over it. I struggled with this a lot with my oldest child. I saw his messiness as a character flaw on his part and a parenting failure on my part. I just couldn’t understand how such a bright kid could sabotage himself over and over again by not turning in assignments, not following directions, and always forgetting things. I kept thinking that he would change his messy ways when he grew tired of the havoc it caused in his life, but it wasn’t that easy.
Eventually, I realized that low executive functioning isn’t something that kids can simply grow out of. They need guidance, understanding, and a ton of loving patience.
Get them to accept help
In my experience, kids who are messy, are embarrassed by it, and want to hide it. They suffer when they know their own lack of organization has caused them trouble and disappointed their parents. Getting them to lower their guard and accept help can be difficult.
When I tutored kids, I would patiently explain to them that no one is good at everything, and we all need to learn how to do certain things. I would remind them that there wasn’t any shame in being weak at a something, but there was shame in not accepting help when they needed it.
It helps me to remember that no one is perfect, and we all could use a little help sometimes. Needing a little help isn’t the worst thing in the world.
A practical step
First thing, is to understand the difference between helping and rescuing. I think that help is pre-emptive and rescuing is post fact. When help takes the form of teaching rather than saving, we are on safe ground.
For example, my youngest child really struggled with bringing home all of the stuff she needed for homework every night. It seemed that there was always something she left in her locker or a friend who had to be called about a homework assignment.
I changed our routine. Previously, when she would get in the car, I would sternly ask her if she had everything she needed to get her homework finished. She would say yes, and I would drive away thinking that I had done my job.
It didn’t work. So, I began looking online to see what her homework was for the night before I picked her up. Then I would ask her to show me the stuff she needed to complete the assignments. I wouldn’t leave school property until she had everything.
This routine helped her. She didn’t like having to run back into the school to her locker, and she didn’t like showing me a messy backpack. She slowly began to bring everything home the first time.
If you can’t replicate this exactly, maybe you could get an extra set of textbooks to keep at home. Or you could have a daily alarm that goes off at the end of the school day that reminds your child to take a deep breath, think, and touch every book they need for that night. It would be a positive use for their phones anyway!
I think my daughter’s routine worked because it was focused on helping her and not humiliating her for “constantly forgetting stuff.” Messy kids really do want to do better and please us parents. It’s up to us to gain their trust and then to help them with the practical steps they can take to achieve order in their life.