11 Organization Tips for You and Your Complex Kids
There are times when organizing the various members of your family feels impossible. How can you get everyone on the same page when their brains are all playing different tunes? Here’s a collection of 11 tips to get you and your family organized on the same sheet of music.
1. Get Organized One Step at a Time
Managing priorities and minimizing distractions can make the difference between a productive week, and one spent spinning in circles. Take 10 minutes today for one small organizing step. You could make a list of all the home projects that are rattling around in your head, or create a dinner menu for the week. Just start to capture whatever has been weighing on you the most.
My small step is starting my week by pulling out my lists – one for work and one for family – and setting a timer. Without that timer, I'm Alice. I'll fall down the rabbit hole of distractions! I focus on making sure I know what needs to be on the “master to-do list” for the week.
Like my step, yours doesn't need to be fancy; it just needs to work for you and help make your life a little easier!
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2. Using Structures
Assisting my father-in-law in the hospital, I noticed him looking down at his wedding ring. It was tight, for sure, and I asked if he wanted me to take it off for him. He looked up at me and smiled – a rare treat, these days. “No,” he said, “I was just making sure it was still there.”
A wedding ring is what a coach would call a “structure,” an external reminder of something that is important for us to remember. A simple structure might be a message on the fridge, a to-do list or a reminder at the table to feed the dog. But sometimes, when we want to remember something that is more thoughtful – more about intention than task – an external structure can be really powerful. A rock in the pocket, a note in a child's lunchbox, or – my favorite – a piece of jewelry, can make us mindful, and serve as a reminder or connection.
Got something you want to remember – like taking 3 breaths so you don't lose your cool? Try a structure as a physical and visual reminder, and see how it works for you.
3. Sometimes More Work Equals Less Stress
Just do it…yourself. Don't get me wrong – I firmly believe in delegating and asking for help! But sometimes the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to tackle a challenge or chore on your own. If you're feeling on edge, for instance, it may not be the best time for your son to help with dinner.
I was driving to an event with my spouse recently, and I could tell he was anxious when the parking lot was full. I insisted he get out and let me park the car. Yes, I was willing to walk several blocks – in high heels – to keep my own anxiety level from rising. It was a win-win situation: He was calmer, and I met an interesting woman in the parking lot while walking in.
Because I chose to do it myself, stress left us alone that night. Sometimes, making a positive choice to reduce your stress – even if it requires a bit more work – is just the self-care you need. You can avoid the stress of leaving a task unfinished, lessen the chance of a meltdown, and help everyone – yourself included – remain on a more even keel.
4. Do It Yourself
Despite our firm belief in the values of asking for help and delegating responsibilities, this Self Care Tip is going to take a different spin.
Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to take care of something on your own. When stress levels are high, or you are feeling on edge, it may not be the best time to have your son help with dinner. You might just need that time to yourself.
I was driving to an event with my spouse, recently, and I could tell that he was anxious when the first parking lot was full. Instead of driving around the block, I insisted that he get out and let me park the car. Yes, I was willing to walk several blocks – in high heels – just to keep my anxiety level from rising (which is what staying in the car together would have likely produced).
It was a win-win situation. He was calmer walking in and getting a lay of the land. I was happy meeting an interesting woman in the parking lot and walking in with her. Stress was avoided for both of us, all because I chose to do it myself.
Sometimes, making a positive choice to reduce your stress level, even if it requires a bit more work or a few extra steps, is just the self-care you need!
5. Are You a “Yes Person”? Practice “Juicy Nos”
Why It's Important to Learn to Say No
We do it to ourselves, don't we? We say yes to everything, from volunteering for school to helping out our favorite charity to attending religious programs to helping out a friend. We want to do all of these things, we want to please the people we care about, we want to expose our children to important experiences.
But, in truth, for many of us, it's too much of a good thing. It's time to learn to say no – consciously, and deliberately, for the health of our selves and our families.
Every time you say yes to something, you are by default saying no to something else. So make it deliberate. I call it a “juicy no.” Juicy because it's something you might want to do, but no because you choose not to do it now.
What CAN you say “no” to that will actually take the pressure off of you?
6. Cross it OFF Your List
Ah, the infamous, never-ending to-do list. You may have a great structure in place to help you manage work and life. Or, you may be like me! Keeping a list can be overwhelming. It seems like everything ends up there, and the to-do list becomes a wish list!
So, here's a tip: Find one thing on your list that is more than a month old – and cross it off. Gulp! You have to be honest with yourself and know that, if you haven't done it yet, you probably won't. You also have to trust that if it really needs to happen, it will show up on your list again when it is more realistic for you to tackle it. Take some pressure off yourself: this item was likely something you thought you should do rather than something you want or need to do, anyway!
7. Prioritizing – What's Most Important
As parents, we tend to get attached to outcomes like finished homework and completed chores. Everything about our kids' behavior from the moment they wake up or walk in the door becomes an important indicator of their future (not to mention our success as parents.) Occasionally, we tend to lose the forest for the trees.
So try writing down a question like: "What's Important Here?" or "What's Important at this Moment?" Keep it where you can see it, like on the refrigerator or over the kitchen 'desk' area. When you find yourself getting aggravated at one more incomplete task, take a breath and ask yourself the question. In fact, it may be important that the trash goes out immediately. Or, it may be that your child has had a rough day, needs a boost to her self-esteem, or is finally getting something done on her homework. Before you focus in on what is wrong, what can you find that is going right? What affection or affirmation can you give BEFORE you redirect your child? Or, in the grand scheme of things, with all your child is managing that day, is the redirection necessary?
When we let some things slide, the pay-off in self-esteem is usually well worth it.
8. Surrendering As a Parent Can be a Strategy for Success
Sometimes the best way to take care of yourself is actually to surrender your own agenda.
With a task list a mile long, and a lot of deadlines piling up, I recently walked away from my piles and took an afternoon to hang out on a blanket at the park. The kids played, and ran around, and laughed. I didn't do much of anything. I watched them. I listened to their laughter. I glanced at the day's paper.
Mostly, I surrendered to their joy, and their play, and my body's need for rest.
Every once in a while, you have to remember to give yourself one of the great gifts of parenting: the time and space to relax and enjoy, to listen and laugh, to operate without a plan. Try it this summer – whether it be at the park or the pool – and notice how great it feels to choose to be hanging out with the kids, rather than wishing you could be doing something else!
9. Training Your Brain
Our brain is a muscle, and it needs exercise. Meditation is just that: an exercise of focus, a form of brain training that has been shown to increase our ability to concentrate and pay attention, even when we are not being quiet. Slowing down our brain typically slows down the rest of us. Meditation lowers our heart rate and cortisol levels, which, helps us manage stress, get more sleep, and reduce physical tension. We don't need to head to a mountaintop and sit in lotus posture for days – although that could certainly be a transformative experience! At some point during the day, simply try to sit in silence and focus your mind for 10-15 minutes. If nothing else, it has the added bonus of 15 extra minutes of kid-free alone time!
10. Planning to be Spontaneous
Being flexible is a great life skill, but is often hard for our kids, who tend to like things to be fixed and predictable. As we start back to school, consider spending some time focused on increasing your child's spontaneity.
We need “safe” ways to challenge and stretch our kids to be more adaptable. Sometimes, that means planning for it! It may not be easy. Not only are our kids challenged with transitions, but our own struggles with flexibility and organization can get in the way, too.
Here's an idea: Come up with 3-5 options for an afternoon or day adventure. Figure out what it would take to do each, and make notes on what you would need to do to prepare for the activity. You could even make it a family project to do the planning together. Put slips of paper into a jar with each of the adventures written on it. Then schedule an adventure day. Get up in morning, pull a slip, and go do it!
Afterward, talk about what was fun and challenging about doing it – and be sure to share your own struggles with being light on your feet. And don't forget: celebrate the successes, and learn from the challenges.
11. Easing Transitions: Save the Best for Last
While kids with ADHD often have difficulty sustaining focus – which is how a 10-minute chore can last 2 hours – they also have trouble shifting their focus. When your child is playing video games, for instance, she is getting constant stimulation and feedback. No wonder she doesn't want to stop!
Parents often find it challenging to get their kids to switch from a preferred task – e.g. games or movies – to a required task – e.g. homework or chores. So what's a parent to do? Try doing the required activity first, and then doing the preferred one afterwards (even as a reward). It'll make transitions much easier.
Here's an example: your child can do her bath routine and then have dessert, do homework and then have time to watch a YouTube video, or do her weekend chores before going out to play. Of course, you can't do this with bedtime! But it works with a variety of other activities throughout the day. When possible, save the best for last.
Organization tips for your family
For more tips, check out our Organize Your Life and Family category and some of our articles on Systems, Structures, and Motivation:
Reward Systems: Why They Work and How to Start One
Helping ADHD Kids Get Started on Daunting Tasks
Five Motivators to Get Anything Done
Four Tips to Introduce an ADHD Child to Systems and Structures