So often I hear parents saying, "Oh, he's got a memory like a sieve". "One thing's for sure, she'll forget" or "I'll ask him to get something and half an hour later he's lost somewhere in the house!" Sometimes parents become so fed up with their child's never-ending disorganization that they unwittingly create situations that set their children up for criticism and more failure.
In one case a mum who, when with friends, often complained about her twelve year-old daughter - her untidy bedroom, her forgetfulness and her confusion. It didn't matter whether her daughter was within earshot or not! When challenged, this mum's justification was that her complaints were harmless enough. They were simply driven by her frustration with her daughter's persistent failure to be neat, organised and show the depth of responsibility her friend's children seemed to have. Yet, she offered nothing to strengthen her child's slow to develop abilities. What her efforts highlighted was a willingness to condemn her child and drip feed the message that her child's organisational problem was so ingrained that it was incurable. Her real effectiveness was to ensure that her prophecy about her daughter would be fulfilled.
This is not an example of a terrible parent, far from it. What it serves to illustrate is that it's too easy to overlook the root of the difficulty. Organisationally challenged children not only have trouble with remembering and being organised about the house, but show forgetfulness, poor follow through, procrastination, confusion and time-wasting in other parts of their lives as well. Often it is a global issue whereby the continuity of their lives is continually fractured by lost belongings (especially schoolwork and homework), a poor sense of being able to manage time, poor planning and poor memory sequencing. Frequently, their untidy appearance or living space, gives a soulful insight into their disorganised thinking. For some, their memory and organisational weaknesses may be linked to a specific learning difficulty such as Dyslexia, a concentration difficulty such as Attention Deficit Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety, depression or a chronic illness. We have long known that individuals diagnosed with ADD and ADHD suffer from time blindness and poor planning. Managing time is genuinely tricky for these children; in fact it is not uncommon to see their time management abilities delayed by up to 40% compared to others the same age, despite having plenty of intelligence.
Poorly organised children lack the individual building blocks responsible for higher-order organisation. Without these primary components, they cannot look, feel or be well organised. As parents, we have a choice. We can ignore the underlying causes of their difficulty, and we can choose to react with tell offs, time outs, put downs, smacks and digs, which will make certain they continue to fail. Alternatively, we can accept that independent organisation is a higher-order skill, and developmentally they do not have the capacity to do this independently for the moment.
If we accept this, and wish to be a positive force in a child's life, we need to use approaches to strengthen their delayed organisational repertoire. It is essential that we adjust for their inconsistency. There is no other way, and the great spark of hope is that the triggers available to remind, memory jog and support organisation are endless: