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By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

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Take N.O.T.E.

A simple, step-by-step tool to help you figure out if the struggles you’re seeing might be signs of a learning and thinking difference

Lots of kids have messy rooms and cluttered backpacks. Most will eventually organize their things because they can’t stand the mess or don’t want to get in trouble. 

Then there are kids who are never neat or organized no matter what the consequence is. Their things are all over the place, and they don’t clean up even when they’re told to. Why does that happen?

Some people see this behavior and assume it’s laziness or defiance. But many kids really do struggle with organization and all the skills that go into it. So do many adults.

Organization isn’t just about keeping track of things. It’s also about organizing your thoughts, managing your time, planning, and knowing how to get things done. It means being able to set goals and do things in the right order.

People struggle with organization for different reasons. A common one is difficulty with a set of skills called executive function. No matter the cause, there are strategies that can help at every age.

Dive deeper

What organization challenges look like

Some signs of organization problems are clear, like a workspace that’s always messy. But others are harder to recognize. Here are some examples: 

  • Forgetting to take important items back and forth from school, like homework

  • Forgetting to gather the right materials for an assignment or project

  • Not keeping things in a regular place so they’re easy to find

  • Struggling to think about or do more than one thing at a time

  • Having trouble telling a story in a logical way

Find out how kids use organization skills to learn .

What causes organization challenges

When young kids struggle with organization, it may just be a matter of development. Kids develop organization skills at different rates. 

Not getting enough sleep can make it hard for kids to focus and stay organized. Stress, anxiety, and trauma can also play a role.

But as kids get older, the main cause of organization problems is trouble with executive function. This group of mental skills allows us to organize, plan, focus, and prioritize.

People with ADHD typically struggle with executive functioning skills. If you’re concerned, explore signs of ADHD in kids and adults .

More ways to help

Organization skills can improve with help and support. There are many strategies you can try to help kids get and stay organized — at home and at school. 

Also, showing empathy can improve kids’ self-esteem and motivate them to work on organization skills. (Scolding can make them feel like they’re “bad.”)

Check out these low-cost organization tools for kids , and get tips for teens and young adults .

And discover classroom strategies and supports that can help with organization.

Next steps

Kids benefit the most when parents and teachers work together. Reach out and set up time to talk. Share what you’re seeing and strategies you’ve tried.

Pediatricians can also help. If you’re a parent or caregiver, talk to your child’s health care provider about what’s happening at home and at school. 

Parents and caregivers: Learn how to pick up on patterns in your child’s behavior.

Educators: Get tips for starting good relationships with families.

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom