Helping Children Cope with Natural Disasters

All across our country right now it seems like we are having one natural disaster after another. Hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms, fires, and floods abound.

These disasters are overwhelming to all of us but can be even more devastating to children. Without really understanding the whys, children can feel scared and insecure. Even children who do not personally experience the trauma but see the events on TV and hear adults discussing the destruction can feel strong emotions. Try to limit the amount of time watching TV where so many traumas are highlighted. After watching TV together, talk about what is being portrayed.

Exposed children may start demonstrating fear or sadness. They may act out or revert to bedwetting, sleep problems, or separation anxiety. For many children, these reactions may be brief but some children may be at risk for psychological distress. This is especially true if they were directly involved and had to be evacuated, lost a pet, or experienced a real life-fearing ordeal. Children that experienced on-going stress by living for a while in a shelter or somewhere else, loss of friends and social networks, loss of personal items, hearing parents worry over unemployment and costs of recovery may be more at risk.

Children’s coping skills are often learned from their parents. They can sense adults’ fears and sadness. It is important parents and other adults take steps to manage their own feelings and plans for coping because they are the best source of support for their children. One way is to have children become a part of planning before disaster strikes so they know what to expect and have a sense of control. After a disaster include the children in the family recovery plan.

Don’t leave children out of discussions. Encourage the children to share their thoughts and feelings. Clarify any misunderstandings. Listen to what the child is saying. If they have difficulty expressing themselves, ask them to draw a picture. Give out a lot of hugs. Calmly provide factual information and plans for safety. As soon as possible get back to your regular routines.

If your child continues to show stress or his behaviors start to cause him trouble at school or with other children, it might be the time to talk to a professional like the child’s doctor or clergy. Look for support networks or start one for yourself.

Looking forward, preparing for disasters as a family helps everyone accept that disasters do happen and gives the family an opportunity to collect the resources needed to meet basic needs during and after a disaster. When families feel prepared, they cope better and this includes the children.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Organizing Space With a Small Child

That new bundle of joy comes into your home and suddenly your home explodes with baby clothes, furniture, baby accessories, toys, books, feeding apparatus, and more. How did this happen and what to do now?

  1. Utilize the container system. I feel that as long as you can contain items in an orderly fashion, you can have as much “stuff” as gives you pleasure. A container can be the shelf for the books, the drawer for the sleepers, the hammock for the stuffed animals, the room for toys, and even consider your house as a container. When a container is full, no more items can come in unless some go away first.
  2. Set ground rules for gifts. When a baby first arrives or even before, there are parties and gifts start arriving. It helps everyone if there is a gift register and there is no sin in taking back to the store duplicates or items that just won’t work in your space. After that first influx, let it be known that gifts should just appear on birthdays and special holidays – not every time someone is out shopping and sees something cute. Let gift givers know your boundaries – like no gifts with batteries or a gazillion small pieces or items bigger than a breadbox. If a grandparent or favorite uncle brings in a large or loud gift, thank them and tell them that they should keep that toy at their home for baby to play with when they visit.
  3. Set limits on books. Children have favorites that they love to hear over and over again but I have seen bookcases overflowing with books – for children not even in kindergarten. Cull books regularly. Locate independent book stores that will accept used books for credit. Remember the library? What fun to go once a month or every two weeks and pick out some books to enjoy!
  4. Rotate toys and books. If there are too many books and toys around, the children tend to play with one of them a few minutes and then drop it and go to another one, etc. They get bored easily and can’t focus on any one thing. I have been in playrooms where you can’t even see the floor. Decide on a good number and variety of toys depending on your child’s attention span and age and then store the remainder of toys. In a few months, put away some of the less played with toys (or give them away if all interest is gone or they have aged out of it) and then bring out some of the stashed toys.
  5. Arrange the storage of items that are out so the toys, books, puzzles, etc. can easily be put away. Have items at eye level for the child. Have bins labeled with words and pictures and do not put lids on the bins. Make it easy for small children to scoop up their blocks and dump them into the appropriate bin or container. Teach children at a young age to put their toys away at night.
There is no right way to all of this. Find what works for you and your family. Remember that the house belongs to the adults – not the children. Find your happy place and then enjoy it together.
For more ideas see the following: both books are available on Amazon or Barnes and Nobel.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Teaching Organizational Skills to Young Children



As a professional organizer, I spend a lot of my time teaching or transferring organizational skills to adults. Many of these adults have children who also need this help.

Diane Quintana (CPO, CPO-CD) and I have been aware of the importance of teaching young children organizational skills. Diane and I met when we were both working with the NAPO (National Association of Professional Organizers) in the schools program. This was a program that went into schools and introduced elementary children to some of the basic organizational skills. We were sad to see this program fold.

Taking matters into our own hands, we co-authored two books – Suzie’s Messy Room & Benji’s Messy Room. These books were written for parents and children to share. We took some basic organizational strategies:

  • Break projects down into small manageable steps
  • Sort like with like
  • Cull collections
  • Assign a place or home for belongings
  • Reward for jobs completed
We then applied these strategies to the task of cleaning up a room. These same strategies are applicable to any project the children (or parents) take on.
We have gone on to develop presentations for parents on teaching organizational skills to their children and have developed activities for the children. We feel this is also something that should be taught in the schools as well as at home.
For more information, please contact me – jonda@timespaceorg.com or 404-299-5111.
To order books, check out my web page – http://timespaceorg.com/books/ .

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Children and Clutter

While it has been a long time since I have had children living in my home, I remember some of the “stuff” that started pouring into our home before the first little guy even arrived. I look around at friends and clients with children and grandchildren and see how the “stuff” can take over parts of the home.

Each new child in a household increases family possessions by 30% and that’s just in their preschool age. How can that happen? Extra furniture, clothes, linens, toys, and bottles are just the beginning. Before the baby actually arrives, these new belongings are usually stored in the “baby’s” room and perhaps some of the kitchen. But then they explode onto counter tops, floors, and tables throughout the house.

The United States has 3.1% of the world’s children but we own 40% of all the toys bought worldwide. All of these items come into the home by way of our own purchases, baby gifts, and continual grandparent gifts, and then they tend to stay.

So what is the answer to all of this incoming clutter?

  1. Every season look over clothing. Are you planning on having more children? If so, take the outgrown clothes and really look at them. Are they torn or stained? Did you really like them? Discard all that you would not use again and then store in labeled tubs those clothes that you are keeping. If this is your last planned child, donate or give to friends the clothes that are still in good shape.
  2. Every 6 months look over toys and books. If your child has outgrown them, either pack them away or store them for the next child or donate.
  3. Encourage grandparents to give gifts that give a memory (think trips or events) instead of physical items.
  4. Be selective in what you buy. Buy a few quality items instead of an abundance of the latest fads. Teach your children to take care of their toys and each holiday or birthday encourage your children to donate some of their gently used toys to others and discard unwanted toys that are broken.
  5. As children get older, have them be an active part of the purging process. Each season have them choose the items that they really love and/or feel they need, and then donate the rest. Teach them that each and everything they own must have a place to be put away.

While there is no way not to increase clutter with children, there are ways to control it.

Jonda S. Beattie

Professional Organizer

Holiday Travel

Many of us will be traveling over the holidays. Planning for this travel experience can help keep it from being a dreaded time and might even turn it into a part of your overall holiday experience.
If reservations are involved in your travel, designate a folder or better yet a bright colored plastic envelope to hold all reservation information- car reservations, flight, bus, or train reservations, hotel reservations, etc. If you need your passports, slip them in there too. This envelope will travel with you in your car or carry on.
Have a packing list. This will not only make sure you get everything packed but look at it again before coming home to make certain nothing gets left behind. Don’t forget to include items like medicines and books.
If you are traveling by plane and parking your car at the airport, take a picture of the parking location sign with your camera phone or digital camera in case you lose that slip of paper with the location jotted down on it.
Before taking off, check the weather at destinations and check on any new wrinkle in what TSA is requiring.
If you are traveling out of the country, scan your passport, driver’s license, and any other important document and email them to yourself so that if you find yourself in a position where you need a copy, you can simply access your email and print them out.
Always put your flight number and name inside each checked bag in case the bag tag falls off.
If part of your travel involves traveling with young ones, put together a pacifying travel kit – something new for each child like a book or quiet game or a camera or a notebook to draw and write a journal. Also add snacks that travel well as well as sanitizer and wipes.
Don’t push yourself when traveling. Leave extra time. Try to enjoy the trip. Allow lots of time between connections – time to get a meal, stretch your legs, or to read or listen to a book on tape.
My son, Darin, and I will be traveling to Ohio by car. We will rent a car as we both drive “clunkers.” We will pack books and music, food, and extra outerwear, boots, and blankets. It will be a good visit time for us as well.
Stay safe over the holidays!
Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Christmas Gifts

I love to shop for Christmas gifts. I like to think about the people I am buying for and try to find something that reflects their likes and interests. I like to keep an eye all year round to find the special gift but usually really get motivated in November.
I remember so many Christmases past when our extended family would gather and presents would get piled up around the tree. The quick looks at a package- the lifting to feel the heft- the poking- all heightened the anticipation of opening the gifts on Christmas morning.
I love receiving the gifts as well. When I open the gifts I can tell that I have been thought of. I know that people cared enough to spend time finding what they thought would please me. I love to read, so I often got books. The books might not have been the ones I would have gone and bought myself, but I often found myself enjoying a book that I would never have chosen. I might find myself wearing and enjoying something that I would not have bought myself. You could feel the love.
I love seeing the aftermath of the gift opening. Especially rewarding is seeing the children, still sitting among the strewn papers playing with a cousin a new game.
Gift cards are great for some people- but for me- I love a gift.
I would love to hear what others feel about holiday gifts.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

Children’s Areas

I love to work with children in their rooms. It can be their bedroom, playroom, or study area. They have very distinct ideas about what they want (I want my bed on the floor beside the video games and my bookcase) and they will work hard with you. They are great sorters and they are usually very good about getting rid of anything they no longer need or want. They especially like the idea of giving to those who don’t have as much as they do. They’ll draw you pictures of how they want things to look. They are great at re-purposing items and furniture. They can tell you what is bothering them about their area now. They’ll help you move and even remove items until it is right. They are so happy when it turns out the way they want.

Jonda S. Beattie
Professional Organizer

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