Signs & Symptoms

Organizing Materials

Is your child keeping a disorganized locker or messy desk?

Your child’s locker may look like a science experiment. You might find overdue library books, smashed old milk cartons, and broken pencils strewn about his desk or locker.

She may show up to school with all the homework done but forget to turn it in to her teacher. He may get ready to leave for school but forget his keys, his school id, and his lunch.

You may find that you are constantly replacing your child’s lost glasses or misplaced backpack.

When your child goes to show you the homework for tonight, you may notice that her binder is so messy that you cannot begin to make heads or tails of it. Her subjects may be all mixed together, with papers crunched into pockets, such that her binder appears to have no organizational scheme whatsoever.

Children with poor organization skills may be very upset when the schedule or routines change unpredictably. Transitions at school or in life may be difficult for an unorganized child.

They may be seen as ‘followers’ [6] among their peers, copying other children instead of maintaining their own organization or remembering directions and instructions.

What do challenges with Organizing Materials look like?

  • Losing things?
  • Leaving important papers on the floor?
  • Misplacing school ID, ski pass, or keys?
  • Seeming to be in another land, not focusing on the here-and-now?
  • Having a school binder with papers stuffed in all over the place?
  • Having a messy locker?
  • Never having a pencil?
  • Losing overdue library books?
  • Doing the homework but never turning it in?

Why is Organizing Materials happening?

If a child is very disorganized, it may be that he or she is simply not as interested or focused on these tasks and needs some help, or has poor executive functioning, or that organization skills are on track but still developing. It is important to note that while some brain functions mature in early life, executive functions develop much later. 

  • 8-9 year olds: Attention skills begin developing during infancy and increase quickly throughout early childhood. However, as your child reaches about seven to nine years of age, he or she is in a critical period for skills like cognitive flexibility, goal setting, and information processing. 
  • 12 year olds: Basic Attention skills are thought to be fairly well developed by around age twelve. This finding suggests that most 12 year olds should be able to sit and pay attention for a 20 minute-60 minute talk, read a book for an hour, or sit through dinner without complaint.
  • 13-21 year olds: During early adolescence (around ages eleven to thirteen), the executive functions emerge and are still not mature until around 21 years of age. As most parents already realize, this time can be a scary age to observe in your child. They are so full of opportunity and are vulnerable to risks, yet the reasoning, planning, judgment, and organization parts of their brains are not fully formed. 

However, the good news is that if your young teenager does not appear to have stellar organization skills, he or she may be right on track with peers. Patience and persistent support can help your child navigate these challenges. Other good news is that these skills are teachable. That is, organization skills may or may not come naturally to your child, but these skills are amenable to intervention and support. If your child’s skills are functional enough to earn good grades and only lose the occasional library book, this difficulty may not be cause for concern. 


The time to get involved is when your child seems distressed and disengaged and when grades are dropping. If s child is falling behind and refusing to get organized, he or she may have a problem worth remediation. Another reason to be concerned is if your child has poor attention overall. That is, if your child is generally ‘tuned out,’ in his or her own world, and seems to be avoiding school or other activities, it is time to get some help. It may be that your child needs some support to be more organized or that therapy is required.

How can I manage Organizing Materials at home?

If your child is disorganized, the first thing to think about is how much this problem is ‘getting in the way?’ Is it possible that this lack of organization is more of a problem for you than it is for your child?

This problem is only worthy of remediation if your child is really struggling. Look for a drop in grades, sad mood, or general disengagement.

One potential option is to check in with your child’s school counselor. Counselors often have organization groups, and some may have curricula to help kids get organized.

Sometimes, a favorite teacher may be able to mentor your child and provide some strategies for planning and organizing.

If the problems are more significant in that your child is inattentive, disorganized, and has poor follow-through on tasks and assignments, further intervention is needed.

These problems may be a sign of ADHD or of another disability. In this case, evaluation may be required, and specific therapies can provide treatment.

For older children, Cognitive Behavioral or Behavioral therapy is helpful to work on organization and planning strategies.

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Organizing Materials?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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Our Free Discovery Session is a 20-minute consultation where we can talk one-on-one about the concerns and questions you have about your child.

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