As parents, our obligation towards our children is to teach them healthy patterns of behavior. It is especially wholesome to model and encourage these behaviors while they are young, so that these behaviors will become ingrained in their psyche. In the words of our sages, “Habit becomes second nature.”

Think of the effect of the wind on a sapling versus on an old, stiff tree. The flexible sapling will bend in the wind, while the old tree may snap when winds are too strong. The older we get, the harder it is to change our natureThe older we get, the harder it is to change our nature.

As parents, the way to ingrain good habits is to provide effective modeling. “Do what I say, not what I do” isn’t going to work over here. Indeed, one of the many challenges of healthy modeling is staying one step ahead of the children.

The good news is, you can teach time and space management to your children as you master them yourself. Here are the four golden rules that will help children get themselves organized:

1. Control clutter

It’s hard for any of us to be organized when we have too much stuff. Encourage children to share their toys by describing the charitable organization you will be dropping the items off at. Older children will understand the 80/20 rule (whereby 80% of what they play with is made up of 20% of the toys), and this will help them declutter. Decluttering is especially helpful before the summer, a birthday or Chanukah, as your children will be making space for new items.

2. Everything has a home

Corral the toys in labeled containers. This can work wonders, especially if you institute the one-container-of toys-at-a-time rule.

3. One in, one out

Children’s toy areas can grow like vines. When a new toy enters the toy area, an old toy is given awayInstitute a one-in-one-out rule: When a new toy enters the toy area, an old toy is given away. That way, the toy area stays wonderful.

4. Catch them being organized

Children may believe that they are not organized by nature, and in many cases they really aren’t! However, our job is to cultivate that little part of them that can learn these vital life skills. Catch them doing things right and praise them with specific praise (“I like how you put away the markers” is better than “You are the best cleaner-upper in the whole wide world”).

Ultimately, the goal is to have children internalize that it’s their responsibility to manage their possessions, so leverage any moments you can to impart this value.

Good luck with this challenge. Taking the time and energy to teach your children how to live an organized life is one of the most empowering lessons you can give them.