Parents can begin good organization habits with preschool-age children, said Elana Spira, Ph.D., co-author of "The Organized Child" and clinical assistant professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone.
She recommends asking them to do small, simple actions on a regular basis. Maybe they unpack their backpacks and bring their lunch bag to the kitchen, or take their shoes off at the door and put them in a nearby closet. These won't save parents tons of time, but they will help instill good habits.
Doing small chores at a young age helps children exercise inhibition, discipline and attention, all of which they'll need later on.
When kids enter elementary school, they're ready for more responsibility. This is the time to teach them about daily routines, and help them take control over theirs. Parent and child might sit down together and make a list of everything that needs to be done to get out of the house in the morning, or get ready for bed at night.
Together, they should figure out how long each activity takes, and when the best time to do them is. Some kids might want to get their backpack ready and pick out their clothes the night before; others, in the morning.
It's also wise to create a firm schedule for homework. When do children do their homework? How long do they need? Where do they do it? Where does the homework go once it is done? Figure it out all before, and stick to the schedule as much as possible.
Spira suggests printing up these task lists and laminating them—and then, step-by-step, handing over the execution of these tasks to the children. Children might even check them off with a dry erase marker each morning or evening, as they move through their lists.
Also, make sure the rooms in which these tasks take place are outfitted with easy-to-read clocks. Time management is an important part of learning organization, but it can't be done if kids don't know what time it is.
All this planning ahead is important to start in the single-digit years, but it works for tweens and teens, too. As children get older and their schedules get busier, they need their parents' help identifying priorities and understanding what it takes to make it all work. As with younger children, the goal is to help them figure out what will work for them -- and then help them stick with it.
Calendars are also essential for helping families stay organized. Julie Morgenstern, organizing and productivity expert and bestselling author of "Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You," suggests keeping a family calendar—paper or electronic—and maintaining it regularly. Each family member should have a color dedicated to their activities, so it's easy to see who is doing what, when.
"You can't expect people to look at the calendar on their own. You should have a family huddle every day to look at it as part of your routine, and look at three days ahead," Morgenstern said. "It's better to find any problems (in the schedule) days before."
Other helpful accessories include color-coded folders or labeled accordion folders in the backpack to help organize the various papers children bring home for school: one for each type of homework, one for permission slips, and so on.
Also, once a child is old enough—Spira suggests around 3rd grade—they should have a planner in which they write down all school-related tasks.
If any of this strikes parents as overwhelming, or likely to make their children's heads explode, then slow down.
"Set the child up for success by instituting change gradually," Spira advises. "You don't have to solve everything at once. Wait until the child has been consistently successful with one solution, before moving on to the next."