How to Help Your High School Student Get Organized

Father helping son with schoolwork
Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty

By the time your child reaches high school, you may feel concerned that it's too late to instill some basic organizational skills—but the truth is that it's not. In fact, it's more important now than ever, especially if your child plans to attend college. Being organized is also an important work skill. Use these tips to help your child get organized for high school.

Sit and Plan Their Week With Them

Gone are the days when your child comes home yelling, "Guess what happened to me today?!" More likely, they'll walk in the door and head straight to their room without saying much. If you're like most parents of high school students, you probably find out about things either very last-minute or even after the fact.

Parenting Tip

A weekly meeting can help you stay in the loop regarding your teen's school progress without smothering your child. Sunday evenings are a great family meeting time for you to go over homework and other important school-related issues.

Everyone should consider bringing their planners or calendars to your family meeting. If your teen doesn't have a planner, be sure to get them one. Work your way through each day asking what everyone has scheduled for work, practices, games, and before and after-school activities. Next, determine all transportation needs. Does your child have a ride to each event on their calendar, or will you need to provide transportation on one or more days?

Next review school-related things. Are any projects due or big tests scheduled? Does your child have all the necessary tools or supplies?

Lastly, cover their social calendar. Do they want to go to the Friday night football game, go to the movies with friends, or have a birthday party to attend? If so, discuss the needs for each event like transportation. Does your child need anything like a special outfit washed or dry cleaned, or a gift for their friend? Then fit the preparation items into your calendars. 

While these weekly meetings will be important to you as you juggle both work and family responsibilities, their true value is teaching your child to think and plan ahead. That's a skill that will come in handy for years to come.

Clean Out Your Bags Together

Your child lives out of their backpack all week, just like you might with your purse or briefcase. At the end of your weekly meeting, take time to empty out your bags together. You can lead by example and reinforce the benefits of getting organized and starting the week off on a clean slate.

A backpack has many compartments. Make it a point to have your teen clean out every little pocket so they can get rid of unnecessary clutter and refill the bag with school essentials.

Help Them Learn From Past Procrastination

Many teenagers seem predisposed to procrastination. While this will no doubt drive some parents crazy, try resist the urge to micromanage them. Here are some ways to encourage your child to stop procrastinating.

Don't try to have a rational conversation about procrastination with your child when they are in the middle of getting something done at the last minute. Tempers will flare and it's quite likely nothing productive will come out of it.

Instead, discuss the situation at a later time. Ask your child to explain the circumstances that led to the last-minute time crunch. Looking back, is there anything they could have done differently? With that action plan, help them figure out how can they apply it to their next project or test so they'll avoid procrastinating again.

Not all children are taught studying strategies in middle school, which only catches up with them in high school and beyond.

Many schools and tutoring clubs offer study skills classes designed to teach your child how to study efficiently and effectively. Consider enrolling your child in one of these courses. It's an investment with long-term dividends.

Establish Expectations and Consequences

By high school, you should have a pretty clear understanding of your child's capabilities. Tell your child what you expect from them in terms of grades and test scores based on their capabilities. Some parents even put them in a written academic contract between themselves and their teen.

Whether you communicate your expectations verbally or in writing, you should also include the consequences if the expectations are not met. Decide with your children what the consequences will be such as eliminating extracurricular activities, no weekend social events, or loss of phone or gaming privileges.

When it comes to time management and organization, one of the best lessons you can teach your child is personal responsibility and the understanding that there are consequences for every decision.

Don't Bail Your Child Out

It's 9 p.m. and your child comes running into your room holding a dirty uniform they need for tomorrow's big game. What do you do? If these situations rarely happen, you can, of course, wash it. But if they are a common occurrence, perhaps it's time to stop bailing out your kid.

If you do choose to bail them out, you are reinforcing your child's disorganized habits. You are also sending the message that it doesn't matter if they are organized or not; that it all works out in the end. But you won't be there to bail them out in college, and you certainly won't be there when they get their first post-college job. 

That doesn't mean you need to be stern about this, either. Express sympathy for the predicament and show interest in your child's ideas for solving the problem themselves. You may find that they can get out of the jam without your help. That's a great way to build confidence and life skills.

Introduce Them to Organizational Tools

Now that they have a planner consider what other organizational needs they might need. A different color folder for each subject can help them grab the right paperwork quickly. Sticky notes for quick messages, sticky tabs to mark important reference material in a book, or sticky dots can help them prioritize their workload.

If they need to store notes for a long period of time try a classic three-ring binder, and get them their own three-hole puncher and tabs. Another option is finding an accordion file folder to organize loose papers.

Also, get them their own timer or watch, or show them how to use the timer feature on their phone (if they have one). We all know the importance of taking breaks during our workday and this same notion can be applied to your teenager. Teach them how a quick 15-minute break may help them overcome writer's block or help solve that hard math problem.

You could also show them how to use highlighters or colored pens for note-taking. Not only is this great for finding information quickly, but adding a bit of creativity to the learning process can be fun! If you want to encourage them to get even more creative, consider giving them their own whiteboard. You probably use one (or two) to keep track of lists, so why not give them one to help them do the very same thing.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Venezia A, Jaeger L. Transitions from high school to college. Future Child. 2013;23(1):117-36. doi:10.1353/foc.2013.0004

  2. Damour L. The New York Times. Why Your Grumpy Teenager Doesn’t Want to Talk to You. November 15, 2017.

  3. Institute of Education Sciences. Teaching Organizational Skills to Adolescents: Bringing Clinical Practices into Schools. September 3, 2019.

  4. Krispenz A, Gort C, Schültke L, Dickhäuser O. How to Reduce Test Anxiety and Academic Procrastination Through Inquiry of Cognitive Appraisals: A Pilot Study Investigating the Role of Academic Self-Efficacy. Front Psychol. 2019;10:1917. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01917

  5. Vosniadau S. International Academy of Education. How Children Learn.

  6. Effective discipline for children. Paediatr Child Health. 2004;9(1):37-50. doi:10.1093/pch/9.1.37

  7. Smith KS, Graybiel AM. Habit formation. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2016;18(1):33-43.

  8. Sun RC, Hui EK. Cognitive competence as a positive youth development construct: a conceptual review. ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:210953. doi:10.1100/2012/210953

  9. Zetlin M. Inc. For the Most Productive Workday, Science Says Make Sure to Do This. March 21, 2019.