Lost: My son’s mittens. Found: A system to help with executive function

“Mom! Where are my mittens?”

“Right where you left them buddy,” I say on cue.

But my son doesn’t remember. He thinks they were on the floor near the front door, or maybe in the big bin next to the door, or in the garage, or that maybe the dog ate them. And it isn’t just his mittens he can’t find — it’s his coat and his hat, too.

His next question: “Have you seen my shoes?” And then finally, the kicker: “Mom, where’s my backpack?”

Welcome to my world as a mom of a child who struggles with executive function.

My son is 12 and in middle school. He’s a sporty kid who excels at soccer and basketball. But when it comes to school, he struggles with staying organized and on track with assignments. At home, he misplaces his clothing, homework, and sports gear. It’s especially tough in the winter when he’s bundled up like an arctic explorer.

I often get frustrated with him and feel like a broken record: “Where is this? Where is that?”

Most days, I keep my cool. Then there are the days when the frustration gets to me, and I blow up and yell at him. I always feel awful afterwards. That’s when the self-doubt creeps in: How is my son going to survive high school if we’re not here to help him? How did I fail him? What about college?

He’s even harder on himself. He’ll often say to me, “Mom, I feel so stupid! Why do I keep losing my stuff?”

After school, on one especially cold and dreary day, he got so angry with himself that he broke down. That’s when I knew we had to make a change.

Together we created a system of strategies to help him keep track of his stuff and keep me sane. Since then, his frustration is way down — and so is mine. Here’s what we do:

  1. Create a docking station for stuff. Near the front door I have a plastic drawer bin with my kids’ names on it. Next to the bin is a closet with more bins, and easy-to-access coat hooks. Each child has their own drawer for mittens, hats, scarves, earmuffs, etc. As much as possible, I have the kids put their items away as soon as they come home, including coats and boots.

  2. Set the stage the night before. Before bed each night, I try to have my son pull together his winter gear, backpack, and shoes for the next day. Right near the docking station, I’ve set up an area where the kids can easily grab their coats, hats, and gloves as they head out.

  3. Find a checklist buddy. I also helped my son find a friend at school who is organized. We’ve enlisted this friend to do a quick check of my son’s things when he leaves school. Together, my son and his friend use a checklist that attaches to my son’s backpack. The great thing is that his buddy enjoys the responsibility of helping.

  4. Recycle and reuse everything. To help lower my anger and frustration at lost items, I purchase secondhand jackets, winter coats, socks and other gently used items as backup. If something is lost, we have a replacement. I stash this stuff in a bin in the basement, and once my kids outgrow the items, we make a trip to Goodwill. (As an added bonus, I’m promoting good deeds and community service to my kids!)

  5. Buy in bulk. Lastly, while it may sound like an excuse to shop, I’ve had tremendous success purchasing generic black mittens, ski gloves, winter hats, coats, and even underwear and socks in bulk. I look for coupons at local markets or dollar stores and stock up. Many online stores also offer deep discounts on multi-pack winter items. I know he’ll lose something, so we’re always prepared.

These strategies haven’t solved my son’s executive function challenges or taken away my anxiety about his future. But they’ve definitely helped with our day-to-day frustration and keeping the peace in our house.

Now, the only yelling I do (most days) is courtside cheering at my son’s basketball game. That is, unless we can’t find his basketball shoes… again.

See simple tools to help your teen child get organized. Watch a two-minute video on how to organize your child’s backpack. And learn about the many ways to help kids who have trouble with executive function.


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