Guest Expert

Improving Organization in Kids

Melinda McNeal

Organization seems like it is just a series of steps…first, next, then finally. Yet it is actually much more complicated than that. It is the foundation of all behavior, and guides our ability to comprehend.


For parents of a child with ADHD, these steps are constantly challenged, or  changed, even when mapped out in a consistent and efficient manner. “Where did I go wrong?” we wonder. “It seems so simple…why can’t s/he just follow the steps?”


It is important to realize that change is a multifaceted process, not just a prescribed outcome. Let’s imagine you have selected an area of organization where your child is having difficulty, and you want to implement a new routine. You outline the steps, and have even made a chart to facilitate the change. Is that all you need to do?


Actually, there are 3 missing parts that can help you set up your child for success.



The plan above is based on your attitude and belief system of what this routine should look like. Maybe you bought a guide, you always did it this way, or your mom did. Does your child envision this routine the same way?


I remember doing a desk check at school of a child with ADHD. To my eyes, it was a mess. He hadn’t followed the plan. After reviewing what he needed to do, he started crying. He looked at me and said, “Don’t you get it? If I put everything in folders I can’t find anything!” My belief system of organization had dictated the plan…my plan, not his plan. From that experience I learned to start every plan for organization with an empty slate, armed with an arsenal of ideas, but willing to set my ideas aside and allow the child to dictate the journey.



Just because you want to see something change doesn’t mean the rest of the family sees the same need. But if you get everyone’s investment, your likelihood of success is greatly improved. You can do this by involving the whole family in the process. Start with an informal needs assessment to pinpoint the area of need. (Hint: special consideration needs to be given to the opinion of the child experiencing difficulty). This develops readiness and helps make it a team- based environment, versus one of isolation.


Once the area of need is determined, demonstrate what the task looks like now, and what it could look like. Make it concrete. Try letting the family experience a visual or auditory record of the current chaos. Then, write what I call a task completion story. Actually create a story, with or without pictures, that sequentially walks the child through the task. Make it a family project by including what the other family members are doing during this time as a side note. Use crazy pictures or rhyming words to make it fun.


Finally, review the process. Discuss how task completion, done in a timely and efficient manner, will reduce family stress and allow for extra time to play, sleep or spend time with you. It is crucial that all participants establish his/her own incentive/reward for the change. By involving the whole family in the planning process, it allows time for those involved to rethink previous mindsets, become vested in the process, and own the change.




Problems will occur with any change. That’s normal. How you view those challenges will determine how much trouble they cause. For example you may think there is no way you can get your teenage son to be part of a team to create a task completion story for his younger brother with ADHD. What if you try viewing that thought as something to investigate, instead of a negative roadblock?  I suggest you help the family see problems as friends. Ownership comes from actively solving problems, so why not ask your teenager to use creative thinking skills to help solve the problem listed above? An incentive would help, but ultimately people like being asked for help, and your teen gets to become part of the solution.


People with ADHD view the world differently than those without. Yet their view, which may seem skewed to those without ADHD, needs to be considered. When you examine your belief system about organization and change, before trying to help your child  establish his/her own, you can create a space that allows active participation in the decision making process. Then, as you establish an environment that views problems as friends and vehicles for growth, you’ll foster increased ownership of the process, reduced negativity, increased self-esteem, and ultimately successful organizational change.


More From ADHD Blog