How Parents Can Help Their Children Get Organized and Learn to Be Productive Part 1

Handling transitions

My three children started school and have experienced many "firsts" over the last few weeks: new schools, supplies, teachers, classes, friends, clothes, and schedules. This is a universal time of change for all parents of school-age children. And though much has suddenly changed in our children’s lives, much has stayed the same in some: disorganized bedrooms, poor time management, lack of discipline, and stress. As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of settling our children into the new school year and making sure they’re comfortable that we forget about the ongoing struggles our children endure the rest of the year.

According to John Stamm, Ph.D., and Bill Stockton (Psych Savvy: Children and Organizational Skills), "School failure and unhappiness in the school setting can be often traced to poor organizational skills." Evidence shows that children having trouble "dramatically improved their school performance because of assistance in becoming better organized." There are several important areas where you can help your children get organized and keep their home and school lives running smoothly, setting them up for success later in life:

My boys Johnny and James are six and five years old, respectively. Since the time they were young, I’ve encouraged them to be self-sufficient and "help daddy" or "help mommy" get themselves dressed, wash themselves, put their dirty clothes in the hamper, and so on. Now that they’re able to put on their pajamas at night and brush their own teeth, I can get other things done while they’re busy, and then we can all spend more rest or play time together.

Transitions are the most difficult times of the day for them: from nighttime to morning time; from workday to evening; and from evening to bedtime. These transition periods are called "witching hours," and they are fraught with stress and chaos. Every person, every household, has a witching hour (sometimes more). Even though transition times are only a small portion of the day, they can pack enough punch to spill over into the rest of it. However, with proper planning, you can flow through these high-stress periods more easily.

From workday to evening.

We have affectionately dubbed ours "the 5:00 melt-down hour." We’ve been working hard all day. The kids have been stimulated at school. When we pick them up, they have a million things to talk about. Dinner needs to be made and the table set. The kids start to fight. Meagan talks to me a mile-a-minute, as ten-year-old girls do. I can feel my blood pressure rising. Before long, I’m short-tempered and hungry. My ears are ringing from the sudden rise in decibels. "Will you kids just be quiet?" I shout, which makes things worse. Sensing my stress, James starts teasing Johnny, and Johnny begins whining, to which John responds by sending everyone to his or her room. What a great way for the night to begin!

Rest assured that this is the normal scenario in households across America—yes, even in The Productivity Pro’s house—trust me. But you can plan for this witching hour and do something about it once you know what the patterns are.

Because John is the chef in our family and is busy cooking dinner at our witching hour, it makes sense for me to pick up the boys from daycare. With Meagan having returned on the school bus, it also makes sense for her to drive with me and download her day so she isn’t competing for attention with the boys at home. Since they’re hungry and cranky when they get home, it makes sense to pick them up at 5:00 instead of 4:45 so they can eat a snack with the class. Once we get home, Meagan sets the table and helps John while I take the boys to another part of the house, connect with them, and keep them occupied. Once John rings the dinner bell and we sit down to eat, our entire household mellows out.

From evening to bedtime.

Perhaps bedtime is your battle, trying to do baths, brush teeth, read books, and get everyone ready for the morning. When it comes to bedtime, a consistent routine is the best way for kids to transition from awake to asleep. Don’t wait until they say they’re sleepy—it may be too late! Start their bedtime routine at the same time each night, and use a checklist to remind and guide them through the process. Set aside at least 30 minutes every night so you don’t have to rush. Even before your kids can read, you can use a checklist using pictures and stickers. Our kids each have two checklists of activities they must complete—one for the morning and one for the evening. We simply have to say, "Do your checklist," and most of the time (many times with encouragement and reminders like "where are you on your checklist?") things get done without repeating the message ten million times—and getting frustrated doing so.

You can even put timed deadlines on each one activity so they know where they should be in the one hour of time designated to get out the door. At first, give rewards for making the deadlines. After a while, start to use penalties: e.g., miss more than two deadlines and you lose your television time.

Here is a sample checklist to get you started and modify to meet your needs. This list was created when my daughter was in first grade (obviously, they change as the child gets older, although some older children still need reminders to flush!).

If you’d like to have electronic copies of these checklists, visit and look for "Free Stuff" under the "Resources" menu.

When your children get to bed easily, maybe, you won’t feel too rattled to relax. You might even think about tackling the mountain of bills and filing you’ve been putting off.

From nighttime to morning.

Perhaps your witching hour is first thing in the morning, trying to get everyone out the door. Assuming I’ve set myself up for a great day (see #5), I want to get my morning off to a great start. If I have scheduled to be in my office all day, my morning goes something like this: get myself ready first so I’m not shouting directions and moderating disagreements from inside my bedroom; toss the comforter on the bed; focus on the kids, making sure Meagan is up and get the boys dressed for school (John usually drives them to daycare in plenty of time to participate in the school breakfast—healthy, faster, and cheaper); have my breakfast and coffee; take a few steps around the house and tidy up; toss in a load of laundry if something can’t wait until the weekend; put my husband’s stray papers into the newspaper bin (a subject of another conversation); unload the dishwasher. Then I’m ready to begin my day!

Understanding your transition times, figuring out your patterns, what happens when and why, and then scheduling and planning for them will make a big difference in making your witching hour disappear.