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Organizing Tips for the ADHD Tween or Teen

Helping your child to gain independence involves teaching him or her to be organized, which can be particularly challenging for the parents of a child with ADHD.

"The mind of a child with ADHD is occasionally disorganized," says Kenson Kids co-founder Jen Kent, who is also the mother of a child with ADHD. "It's not that they're disorganized people, but the ADHD mind is somewhat scattered and they forget to complete tasks.

Kent created the On Track! System to help her son, Jack, learn organizational skills. Today, he is a thriving college student. In this post, Jen shares the strategies that helped Jack learn to organize his day, organize his space, and complete homework assignments and tasks.  

The Problem: Your child leaves school things at home, such as their gym clothes, instrument or glasses.

Solutions: Set a routine of gathering items each evening before bed. Keep all school items (backpack, shoes, coat, etc.) in a centralized location, preferably by the door and ready to go. The old adage, "a place for everything, and everything in its place," works wonders. Use reminder objects; for example, an empty lunchbox placed on top of your child's backpack can serve as a reminder for him or her to pack items in the refrigerator.

The Problem: Your child forgets to turn in or loses his/her homework. 

A Solution: Try using a clear folder, attached to the front of your child's main binder. Mark one side "To do" and the other "Turn in." A clear folder serves as a reminder that the child has papers that need to be turned in that day.

The Problem: Forgetting daily tasks.

A Solution: Create a daily routine and follow it until it becomes a habit. For example, establish a set time for doing homework every day. Give them 30 minutes of play time when they get home, before starting on their homework. Setting a timer may help with compliance.

The Problem: Messy room/common space.

Solution: Take 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to quickly straighten the house. A short time period is less overwhelming, and if the whole family chips in, you'll be surprised how much progress you can make.

Problem: Trouble focusing to complete homework.

Solution: Create an organized workspace for each child in your family. Gather everything they will need: paper, pencil, calculator, etc. Having everything at their fingertips eliminates numerous trips to find materials. If space is limited, use a plastic bin or box big enough to hold all materials. It can be brought out when it's time to do homework and put away when homework time is complete. 

Remove distractions. Make sure that each child has a quiet place to study, away from TVs, cell phones and electronic devices. If siblings don't have homework, consider establishing a house-wide "quiet time" where everyone reads or does another quiet activity.

Problem: Homework overwhelm.

Solution: If your child is overwhelmed by the amount of homework, help them prioritize. If he or she is overwhelmed by a large project, show them how to break projects into manageable tasks with small breaks of free time in between.

In the beginning, it's okay to be more hands-on, helping them decide how to prioritize their workload and break down tasks. Eventually, they will be able to do this for themselves, using your guidance as a tool.

Problem: Getting discouraged.  

Praise their efforts. This is especially important for kids that are reluctant to do homework or easily distracted. Catch a moment when they are working hard and point it out: "Way to go, you are working so hard!" or "I am so proud of you for being such a good example for your brother!"

In the beginning, you might need to praise the small efforts, like sitting down to do homework without complaining. Praise motivates children more easily than nagging or yelling.

Reward progress. Encourage your child to set goals, such as handing in all homework for the week or improving their grades. Reward him or her with a later bedtime on the weekend or special family time.

Teaching your child to be organized requires that you discipline yourself. It can be tempting to do things for your child because it takes less time and requires less nagging on your part. By setting a routine, modeling good organizational skills, and giving your child tools and tricks to help with remembering, you are setting your child up for independence in their later teen and early adult years.

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