Help for Your Hopelessly Unorganized Child

by | Oct 25, 2015 | Life Skills | 6 comments

executive function weakness

Do you have a child who is hopelessly unorganized? This is the child who can never find their pack pack, school books or soccer cleats? Oftentimes these kids are not just disorganized with their belongings but also with their thoughts. They have difficulty starting projects and once they’ve started them, they often lack what it takes to complete them. You may be interested to know that there is a name for this type of disorganization – executive function – or in this case a lack of executive function.

Organization aka Executive Function

Executive functioning issues can produce a wide range of symptoms. Depending on which skills your child struggles with the most, and the particular task he or she is doing, you might see the following signs:

  • Finds it hard to figure out how to get started on a task
  • Can focus on small details or the overall picture, but not both at the same time
  • Has trouble figuring out how much time a task requires
  • Does things either quickly and messily or slowly and incompletely
  • Finds it hard to incorporate feedback into work or an activity
  • Sticks with a plan, even when it’s clear that the plan isn’t working
  • Has trouble paying attention and is easily distracted
  • Loses a train of thought when interrupted
  • Needs to be told the directions many times
  • Has trouble making decisions
  • Has a tough time switching gears from one activity to another
  • Doesn’t always have the words to explain something in detail
  • Needs help processing what something feels/sounds/looks like
  • Isn’t able to think about or do more than one thing at a time
  • Remembers information better using cues, abbreviations or acronyms

It is important to remember that although we aren’t born with executive function skills, we are born with the potential to develop them. The process is a slow one that begins in infancy, continues into early adulthood, and is shaped by our experiences. Children build their skills through engagement in meaningful social interactions and activities that draw on self-regulatory skills at increasingly demanding levels.

How to Help Kids With Executive Function Weaknesses

If your child has any or all of these issues, you are probably dealing with it in one way or another pretty much every day since it affects so many areas of life. This can be tedious. It can also be downright damaging to your relationship with your child not to mention the damage to your child’s confidence.

It is important to understand that your child is not lazy, unmotivated or willful and to learn strategies to help them.  For some ideas, read this post => 5 Strategies for Helping Your Unorganized, Unmotivated Child.

Executive Function






  1. Joanna Rammell

    Please please please tell me how to help my 11 y/o make decisions. He’s making himself (and me) into a wreck!!! He has dyslexia, ADD, sensory processing issues, and executive function challenges. I’m working with him on all, but this can’t make a choice thing is stumping me.
    Thank you!

    • Marianne

      Can you give an example of the kinds of decisions he is having trouble with?

      • Joanna Rammell

        Yes. Almost all of them. Does he want to get french fries or a frosty at the drive thru, does he stop eating the dessert because his tummy is feeling full and sick or does he continue eating, should he get this bag of toy cars or the other bag of toy cars, … there are many more choices some with a lot more weight…but those three happened in less than 24 hrs. Each time he melted down and was paralyzed with indecision. And then when the decision was made, he agonized over it. He wept over the dessert one though there was only a little left, and he’d obviously had too much already. The bag of toy cars nearly drove us all insane. He ended up getting the one bag like his brothers and then buying the other bag with his own money. After huge upsets all along the way, he then mourned the way it had gone—wanted to take it back, wondered why he’d even wanted two bags, trying to negotiate so he’d keep his $2, etc. but that was after major upset. His decisions can be decisions that matter—should I gorge and double up (he has stomach issues from the stress he induces in himself) and he’s normal weight or should I exhibit self control? And decisions that don’t really matter —fries or frosty, this bag of cheap cars or that one. His decision making process seems to contribute greatly to his staying on task, doing school, obeying etc. Last night after husband was extremely clear to stop dawdling and get in the shower right now, he left the water running to stick his head out of the bathroom to discuss his decision making process about which socks he should wear tomorrow. I redirected him to the shower, before he got in more trouble! He’d spent over 30 min getting ready to shower. This decision making ties him up so that he ultimately chooses poorly. Like choosing to disobey because he couldn’t make a decision and we finally intervened and then he rejects our direction and throws fit or is outright defiant. Yet even if decision is punted back to him… he has no idea what to do and collapses in upset. I never really got this decision making dysfunction and it’s ripple effect through so much of his angst til very recently.

      • Joanna Rammell

        I guess you didn’t get my previous response about the kinds of choices he’s struggling with. Sorry. It’s probably like the lost sock in the dryer.

        It’s mostly when he’s presented with two or more options that are about equal and that might not even matter. Examples: two flavors of ice cream, frosty or French fries, or one bag of little cars over another bag. He gets paralyzed with indecision and struggles greatly with major upset, second guessing self, etc. The amount of time and emotion dedicated to these simple choices is exhausting for all. He struggles with time management, staying on task, minding own business, and choices that do matter like how to respond to brother when things not going his way. All things we are working on.

  2. Joanna Rammell

    I hope you got my reply about the kinds of decisions he’s
    struggling with. I just finished your course on executive function. Explains a lot. His decision making difficulties are just one part. We have been working on much of this. But this level of detail was really helpful. My trying to teach them my left brain organizing techniques has been shifted quite a bit by this new knowledge. It’s encouraging to hear that others deal with all this. Sometimes I feel like I’m in the twilight zone as I try to understand my husband and four children with all these challenges. I also began reading The Dyslexic Advantage and have had such paradigm shifts! It’s like we are all given strengths and talents etc from God …they are just
    Allocated Differently. My left brain sees a scale. More of this means less of that and vice versa. They aren’t broken! And I love the concept of scaffolding. Thank you really thank you.

    • Marianne

      Hi Joanna! I’m glad the course was helpful! Dealing with Executive Function weaknesses does require a whole new way of looking at our kids. I’m glad you’re feeling supported! 🙂


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