How just “getting organized” changed a child’s life

Admin/ December 7, 2009/ About Kids

Josh’s mom was beginning to worry.

Her 11-year-old son was complaining of stomach aches. His pediatrician could find nothing wrong, but they were more and more frequent, nearly every morning, and often so severe that Josh missed school.

They seemed to be affecting his schoolwork too: the child whom teachers described as “extremely bright” wasn’t turning in assignments, wasn’t preparing for tests, didn’t take notes or do reading for a long-term project.

When his dad suggested he was “goofing off,” Josh shouted, “That’s because I’m an idiot!” and stormed off to his room.

When Josh and his parents came to me at the end of 5th grade and we did some tests, what was really happening became clear.

Josh had a problem with executive functions and lacked the skills that help people manage time, break a task into manageable steps, focus attention, and discipline themselves. Because he couldn’t do those things, he felt the anxiety that caused his stomach aches, he avoided school, and worst, he was beginning to think of himself as a “jerk” and an “idiot.”

I explained to Josh and his mom and dad that executive functions were situated in the frontal lobes—the part of the brain that develops last. When growth is complete, the neurons in the frontal lobes grow a covering, the myelin sheath, that carries signals in the brain much faster than before. The frontal lobes develop earlier in some kids and later in others. Until the process was further along, Josh could compensate by learning organizational skills.

As Josh became more organized, the stomach aches disappeared. Josh’s sense of self-esteem skyrocketed. He learned to sort his assignments in different colored binders and break a reading assignment into parts he could handle. By September, Josh was excited to go back to school and explained why.

His exact words were, “I know I can handle it.”

And now he really could.

10 Ways To Get Organized For School

  1. Create a home file system to store class papers, tests, and notes, so you can find them when you need them.
  2. Set aside an area where you study where you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Set aside enough time for homework and stick to your schedule.
  4. Turn off your phone while you’re doing homework. Give yourself the incentive of  answering your text messages or making a (brief!) call whenever you complete an assignment. Set a time limit for this.
  5. Look at your weekly schedule every day, noting exams and long term projects.
  6. Break big projects down into manageable pieces and add those pieces to your schedule.
  7. Be conscious of what a homework assignment is meant to teach. Read the study questions at the end of the assignment so you can look for the answers as you read.
  8. At the end of doing homework look again at your assignment notebook to make sure everything is complete.
  9. Before you go to bed organize your back pack.
  10. Put projects due the next day in a color coded homework folder.
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