Organization Skills for Toddlers

I’m often asked how to initiate teaching organization skills to children, when the teaching should begin, and how the process works.


I like to use easy words when I teach young people about organization.  Four-letter words are especially effective because they are easy for children (of any age) to remember.


Several four-letter organization words include:  COME.  MOVE.  TOSS.  HOME.  DONE.


Of course, as with any other set of skills, teaching children about organization  has a first step.  It is:  COME.


This skill is usually taught soon after a child can move himself around.  I like to start when children can easily and independently walk.  By this time, children are also interacting regularly with adults.


The goal is to get children to come to you when they are asked in a soft voice, the first time they are asked.


There are several steps in this skill:  the asking, the response, movement/non-movement by the children, and the successful accomplishment of the task.


The Asking
As a parent, set the precedence by always speaking in a low, kind tone to your children.  A significant change in tone or volume should only be used when there is immediate danger to the children.  Otherwise, children need to know that they are safe with you.  There will be consequences, but there will not be anger (at least not too often).


Getting angry with children teaches them that responding to life includes responding with anger.  The more you are in control, the more you are teaching your children how to be in control.  The parental skill here is to talk it out in a friendly, imploring voice.


If children are sitting, the goal is to get them to look up, get up, and move.  If they are standing, the goal is to get them to look up, and move (towards you).


I usually work with one child at a time when beginning this skill set.  I like to have gum drops (or another type of treat) in my pocket as motivators.  There is nothing like sweetness at the end of success to solidify standards.


The Response
The children will probably give you some indication that they have heard you.  Make sure you are watching carefully to make eye contact as you do the asking so you are sure there has been a response.


Children do three things when asked to COME.  They will come towards you, they will ignore you, or they will walk (and sometimes run) away from you.  Often this running away is accompanying by laughter, which means that the children want to play with you.


Of course, there are many variations including coming and then stopping, going and then returning, ignoring and then responding


The Accomplishment of the Task
Children who do come when asked should be rewarded generously with praise, touch, and more praise.  (However, this usually doesn’t happen the first time you teach this talent.)


Learning this skill will take some time and many repetitions.  Often, as a parent, you might feel upset and unhappy when your children don’t respond to your request the first time you make it.  Remember, it will take many times of trial and error, starting and stopping, to teach any child to come when called.


Thus, it is best worked at in the confines of a peaceful home with plenty of time to practice the skill.  Here is a possible set of interactions:


John is playing with his trucks on the family room floor.  You settle into a chair about three feet from him.


“John, please come here.”


John looks up and then returns to his toys.


“John, please come here.  I’ve a gum drop and a hug for you.”


John looks up, see the candy, stands up, and begins to come.  Then he becomes distracted and picks up another toy.


“John, please come here.  See the gum drop is green.  I’m eating one.  They are good.”


John stand up again, and comes completely.


“Wow, John!  You obeyed me.  You came when I asked you to come.  Here is a green gum drop for you and a big hug for coming when I asked you to.  Thanks!”


Time after time, day after day, the parent and children repeat this type of scenario.  The goal:  They are asked to come, they come.  Then follows praise, reward, and touch.


Sometimes children will run the opposite direction.  Practice your response in the safety of your home with plenty of time so you will have an established routine in public.  A possible scenario might be:


“John, please come here.”


John looks up, know the game very well by now, and stands up.  He laughs and heads in the opposite direction.


(Don’t get angry.  Keep your head.  Play with the player.)


Run lightly after John, pick him up, and hug him.


“John, I said please come here and you ran in the opposite direction.  I love you.  You played the game in reverse.  Let’s try again.  You be the big Daddy ad I’ll be the little girl.  You ask me to come and I’ll go away.”


Play this routine out.


“John, now let’s play the game in double reverse.  You ask me to come and I’ll come with two gum drops for you.”


Play this scenario out.


“John, now let’s play the game with you coming to me.  I’ll be the big Mommy and you’ll be my son, John.  I’ll ask you to come.  You come and we’ll eat three gum drops together.”


When this skill is in place, it lays a sure foundation for other organization skills a child needs to function at a high level.  When a child can COME, he can more easily MOVE (such as pushing in a chair after meals), TOSS (put an item in the wastebasket), know where HOME is (and put toys away where they belong), and understand DONE (meaning the all chores must be worked at until they are finished).


Practice with your children until they know to come the first time they are called, every time they are called, and immediately after they are called.  (Yes, they will grow mature enough soon enough to ask to come in a few minutes, but initially the skill is to get the child to obey and:  COME.)



Learn more about teaching children.



Photos used with permission of and rob_dan, ania-sk,  and mcordell.








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