This is another in our continuing posts from Dr. Danielle Bello, our in-house, licensed clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist. In this post, she discusses how to promote good organizational skills in your child, particularly those who are or have been treated for a major illness:
We know that certain illnesses and certain treatments can impact a child’s thinking skills and learning abilities, particularly those who have been treated with chemotherapy and radiation, as these treatments can create changes in parts of the brain responsible for decision making and organizational skills. Other illnesses themselves can directly affect a child’s brain functioning, such as brain tumor, stroke, and sickle cell disease. Some children experience problems in organizational skills which worsen as they are expected to be more responsible for their own life. This can begin as early as middle school. Unfortunately this is also around the time that parents decrease structure and supervision, assuming that the child should be more independent. Yet some children (and parents!) need specific guidance and examples of how to organize their lives. Here are some strategies that you can try.
- Every night have your child put all books and notebooks away in their backpack.
- Work with your child once a week at the end of the week to clean out their backpack and papers and organize materials for the next week.
- We have been using color-coded folders and binders (remember the Trapper Keeper anyone?) for many years – that is because they work!
- Some children benefit from a specific folder used only for homework they are to turn in.
- Have specific locations for items and supplies and cue your child to consistently use these assigned places. This will avoid lost or missing items.
- Model for your child how to start a school project and organize the steps needed for that project. In this way it becomes the child’s science project – NOT mom’s or dad’s!
- Teach your child how to read a calendar. Use one to manage appointments and events. As the child progresses through middle school and enters high school, begin to teach them how to use a daily planner or the calendar app on their phone.
- Some children benefit from a written or picture listing of chores. For example, a picture listing of the steps for a clean room can reduce the verbal reminders from parents. This can also be done for daily morning tasks.
- Show your child how to make and use a to-do list by crossing off items as they are completed.
Parents wonder, how do you know if your child’s thinking skills or learning abilities are in need of professional attention? Some clues include:
- Needing a lot of parent help to initiate and organize tasks especially in middle and high school
- Falling behind in school
- Having specific weaknesses in an academic area
- Teacher concerns about school work or inattention in class
- Limited improvement even after help (parent assistance, formal tutoring, etc.) has been provided