Dear Doctor,

It is summer and we are enjoying the break from school. The reason is our son, who is 14 and will be entering high school next year, is very intelligent, but he would lose his head if it were not attached. He is completely disorganized. His room looks like a dump. He cannot find the clothes he wants to wear. This is not such a big problem during the summer when we don’t have the evening scenes that we experience during the school year — when he forgets his school assignments, stares at the wall and cannot get things done. High school is a scary transition for us. Do you have any advice?

Frustrated

Dear Frustrated,

Your story is a classic one — and I bet you thought you were unique.

Our children usually do not naturally come as organized individuals who are fascinated with homework and wondrous managers of time and what needs to be done. They have to be taught.

There was a time when teachers would not stop until organization was ingrained. It was part of the curriculum. Now, that job is more in your court and we, too, have become complacent. Witness your comment about junior’s room.

The task is threefold — with goals of organization at school, organization at home and time management.

Let’s get started with these tasks now during the summer.

First, develop a contract with your son. Outline the problem to him in a positive way: Start with, “How about we help with getting your room and things better organized?” Let him know you are in for the long haul and that this approach will continue into the school year.

Second, develop a simple plan. Suggest something like, “Let me help you get your closet organized.” Begin with his shirts and pants and them progress to other items. “How about clearing the floor, including under the bed?” Do the same with time and chores, etc.

Third, remove distractions. This probably includes video games, television and who knows what else. Set times for enjoying these distractions.

Fourth, be positive and offer simple approval. Provide encouragement, such as, “Wow, thank you. I appreciate that.” Do not yell. (Come on now, admit it, you probably did a lot of that during the school year.)

Fifth, slowly hand over control. Simple reminders are enough.

Finally, follow through. There will be resistance and setbacks. Learn what works as you go along, but keep organization at home and school and time management as priorities. 

Dr. Larry Larsen is an Andover psychologist. If you would like to ask a question, or respond to one, email him at lrryllrsn@CS.com.