Can I teach my child to be more organized? She's just a total mess! She's very bright and capable, but procrastinates with all her responsibilities, leaving it to the very last minute. And the worst thing is, she usually succeeds in doing it well—but the process is just so infuriating, tense and frustrating for all of us!


To make a long story short, the answer is no.

Organization is largely a function of innate predisposition or, in other words, a person's nature. The other factor is motivation, a person sees for themselves the need and personally desires change so much that they control their old habits and create new ones. Your daughter will change when she is self motivated to do so and not beforehand.

You can show her a few good ideas that will help her be more organized, but if she chooses not to use them there is little you can do about it.

So ends the first part of your question. The other elements of your question are confusing to me. You refer to your daughter as a "total mess," yet you state that she usually succeeds at doing well—that doesn't sound like a mess to me! Most confusing of all is that you refer to her success as "the worst thing" and leave me with a hint of what the real problem is—"the process is just so infuriating, tense and frustrating for all of us!" Therein lies the problem.

I am not sure if your daughter is elementary or high school age but it is clear to me that you have adopted her problem as your problem, and it is not. But it is a great way for children to get attention and keep their parents focused on them. We have talked a lot in this column about children's need to receive attention from their parents and how this subconscious drive makes them act in certain ways based on how their parents respond. Change parents' response = change in child's behavior. Therefore, stop rescuing her and let her be; she seems to land on her feet anyway. Give minimal reminders and assistance, let her know in advance that your attitude has changed, that you trust her to make good decisions and will help in any reasonable manner; she gets no more hounding (frequent reminders) from parents and in return parents will not be expected to respond to panic last minute situations.

As a parent I know you will be reasonable in this, but we both know that you will be tested. You will have to let her feel the responsibility of her own actions or inactions. If this means she loses some marks off a project, then the life lesson was far more important. I wouldn't let her sleep through a final exam or anything but there will be many less traumatic ways to learn responsibility.

In areas where she is untimely with family responsibilities, a more active response is necessary. To a certain extent she can do as she pleases with anything that will only affect her, but when it affects others, she has an obligation. Pulling one's weight as part of a family is very important, and sometimes "less organized" children seem to actually do less in the house hold because they can't get their first job finished, then they never get a second or third job and everyone else has to pick up the slack. Not fair and a very old ploy. If this is the case, back up her duties with time limits followed by consequences. For instance if she was to fold the laundry you would ask her how long it will take her. Let's say the response is 20 minutes. So, being kind, you tell her, "You can have 30 minutes starting from now, the time is 6 pm I will see how things are going at 6:30, if the job is not done, then the consequence will be the addition of dusting the living room."

As you know, the critical issue is to follow through and not go back on any consequences. We both know all about the whining and pleading; at these points your heart has to be as hard as stone! Don't change your mind, don't go back on your word, you must have an air-tight reputation—or say hello to incessant whining!

Take a step back from the situation and I'm sure you'll see how this has been affecting your family negatively. Let all that fall away from you and allow your relationship with your daughter to develop without this baggage. Find ways to connect with her on a daily basis and do things together that need to be done anyway, such as cooking or fixing something around the house. Pull her to you gradually so that she can see that you rely on her. Let the rest fall where it may, within the parameters that we have discussed, so that your daughter can blossom unhindered.

As we learn in the Ethics of the Fathers: "Hillel would say: Be of the disciples of Aaron—a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace." By implementing the plan of action above, you will have a much more peaceful home while your daughter experiences her worth and learns how to grow.

Wishing you and your family all the best!