Liz Gets Organized

Introduction: I decided to implement several methods as an alternative to a verbal power struggle.  My twelve year old daughter resists my efforts to focus her on her organizational skills.  Her report card echoes my concerns.  Elizabeth’s Trimester II Middle School Progress reports from her 7th grade English teacher reads as follows: “…Liz has shown herself capable of achieving so much despite a weakness in organizational skills.  Liz does not keep an English folder, which often results in searching for assignments in her backpack or locker.  Next trimester, Liz should concentrate on better managing her materials."

Problem:  Elizabeth claims her organizational style does not interfere with her grades and she will say something like, “Leave me alone.  I get A’s anyway!  A folder won’t make any difference.”  When I ask her to use one and I have even bought her a trendy folder, she rolls her eyes and thinks I am bossing her around.  She knows better and this becomes her excuse for non-compliance.  This trimester’s report card was shown to Liz as written evidence that my observations are not imagined.  The evidence confirms my fears about her organizational capabilities.  I was at the point of “do it or else” demands!

Identifying My Goal: My goal was to use nice ways to address behavior before resorting to the “do it dammit” intervention.  Elizabeth is a strong willed child and it is this quality that can be her best as well as her worst one.   She can be determined in endeavors and with that same vigor she can be defiant.  I wanted to avoid confrontational behavior with her and decided to try several recommended strategies such as rephrasing my messages, sending a written note, using words of encouragement, seeking permission to offer help, and modeling the use of that knowledge and offering possible solutions for her choose among.  Elizabeth is a fine young woman and an excellent student.  This is a relatively minor problem but I know her teachers are trying to improve her skills for continued success in high school.  I try to choose my battles when Liz exhibits defiance as I recognize her need for power.  My goal was to use these types of “nice ways to address behavior” to defuse the situation, solve the problem, and avoid placing blame and finding fault.  I used this problem as an opportunity to model constructive behavior, promote self-management and foster a positive relationship between us.

Describe how I implemented my technique:   I received the report card the first week of March.  My goal was to have Elizabeth successfully using folders for every subject within the month.  The first week I sent her a note as a reminder.  I used a “stick ‘em” note on her book bag with a haggard-looking cartoon face who said, “I feel ‘messed up’.  Can you straighten me out? Signed, Liz’s English papers and homework.”  (She did not find this funny.)  The following week, I complained about my own schoolwork and asked Liz if she had any suggestions to improve my organizational schools for Graduate studies.  We brainstormed multiple solutions as I said to her, “I feel so disorganized and I like the way you handle problems.  Do you have any suggestions for me?”  (She is clever and I suspect she saw right through me although she gave me some pointers!) The third week, I told her the solutions she offered were helping me and then asked her permission to offer her help.  (At this point, she seemed wary and about to reject my help.)  I dropped the idea and at the beginning of week four, I asked her how she was coming along and had her English teacher said anything since the report card.   She said no and I asked her if she would like to shop for some new folders as I needed them myself.  She agreed enthusiastically and we went shopping that weekend.

Give the outcome/result: The note elicited a negative reaction and Elizabeth did not appreciate the humor.  When I asked her for her help she may have suspected reverse psychology but she was compliant.   When I offered to help her get organized the following week she began to manifest symptoms of defiance and I quickly backed down.  Finally, when I offered to take her shopping for new folders she happily agreed.  At first, she seemed resistant to the last and I was prepared to give up. I decided perhaps she saw the need but needed to do it later, on her own terms. Surprisingly, she has begun to use folders for each subject and I am reinforcing the desired behavior by praising her efforts and thanking her for her cooperation.  Ultimately, we both behaved civilly and respectful to each other.

This technique worked rather well.  I did not revert to my old behavior of a power struggle and I avoided the usual scenario my daughter and I have acted out so many times.  I managed to get Liz to comply in using folders for schoolwork and I do not think I would have done anything differently.  The situation did not dissolve and disintegrate between us as it has in the past and I consider it a success.  In the future, I would try these techniques again and it helped her need to feel she has made the choices.   I may even ask her teacher to see if she notes an improvement in Liz’s organizational skills with the hope she will commend Elizabeth is she observes a positive change.

Thanks Michelle K.!