My Child is Completely Disorganized or Distracted – What Do I Do?

While some performance issues can be attributed to a struggle with mathematical concepts, others are based on underlying issues such as a lack of organization or focus. How to tell if it’s the latter?

  • 0%s or late penalties on assignments and report cards
  • Emails from teachers reporting that assignments are late
  • Finding assignments that look like they should have been handed in around the house

What is the cause?

  • Not knowing how to be or the importance of being organized
  • Not wanting to be organized
  • A learning or processing disability

What to do about it?

Sit down at a table with your child and without being accusatory, explain to them that you’d like to help them get organized because you know how capable they are and you don’t want a messy backpack to get in the way of their grades

Immediately do a “Keep or Trash” session with your child’s backpack and/or locker. Sort through it all. Make it a game, let them crumple, shred, recycle the papers.

Make organization a collaborative effort. Don’t immediately institute color coding because that’s what you think is best. Ask your child how they want to get organized. Our suggestions include:

  • Checking an online “Homework Portal” together each evening
  • Different sturdy colored folders for each class – when they get full, get an identical folder
  • Get rid of 3 ring binders – they tear and get messy!
  • Get a real assignment notebook
  • Quality spiral notebooks with tear-off pages that can be placed into folders if notes are taken

Implementing Accountability

Hold your child accountable for organization. Explain your expectations and then stick to them. Do daily (even twice daily) homework and backpack notebook checks, take away privileges for missed assignments, and play “Keep or Trash” as many times as is necessary. Let your child earn their right to an autonomous backpack and notebooks.

Let your child’s teacher know about your new organizational practices and ask what assignments can be made up or handed in late. Include your child in this discussion or email chain so that they can see (and participate) in the process. If possible, have your child email the teacher (not you).

Hold your child accountable for doing and submitting all late and missed assignments, even if they will get no credit for them. Consider a new practice for submitting assignments until your child has proven they can hand them in – supervise your child as they email scanned assignments to the teacher.

Hold your child’s teacher accountable for grading late or missed assignments; follow up, CC the principal, be persistent.

Other Factors

If you’ve done everything you can to help your child get organized but it just won’t stick and their grades are still slipping, don’t discount other factors. If they just don’t seem to care about schoolwork, read this article: What to do if my child doesn’t seem to care about schoolwork?

If you believe your child’s struggles are caused by a learning disability or other diagnosis, seek professional medical help for evaluation and treatment.

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Rachel Cohen

Rachel Cohen

Rachel is an experienced tutor living in Brooklyn, NY who has worked with dozens of students studying for the ACT, SAT, ISEE, and SSAT. She has a BA from Penn and works full-time as a management consultant. She is also a tutor, blogger, and prolific traveler.
Rachel Cohen