An old TV commercial series from the 1970s used to poke fun of chaotic home life: a crying baby, a barking dog and flying feathers from spur-of-the-moment pillow fights. The commercial was for a bath product designed to take the harried mom away from all this chaos. A chaotic home is no joke. Chaotic homes can affect school performance and can lead to withdrawal behavior in children.
The Chaotic Home
If you have a toddler or preschooler, you will have chaos. But a world of difference lies between an occasional toddler tantrum and the kind of craziness that can harm kids’ self esteem. Alan Kazdin, director of the Yale Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic, told the “Atlanta Journal Constitution” that household chaos is a matter of degree. Chaos becomes problematic when there’s shouting, video or a blaring TV, toddlers making incessant demands, crying infants and angry teens. Chaotic homes also tend to lack schedules, such as mealtimes and bedtimes, which is not good for small children, who thrive on routines.
A study published in the November 2011 “Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” found that children from quiet, organized homes who followed a routine tended to do better at school. The children who lived in noisy, disorderly environments, with lots of people coming and going, tended to withdraw from academics, particularly from early reading skills. One explanation, according to the study, is that children in chaotic homes who don’t have regular bedtimes don’t establish regular sleeping patterns. Therefore, they might not sleep as well, which would cause them to be tired during the day and less able to concentrate on schoolwork. Having the TV on constantly, which often occurs in chaotic homes, can also disrupt sleep patterns. As the mom of a toddler or preschooler, your little one isn’t in school yet, but these are issues to think about for the future.
Some children withdraw to escape from chaos, according to the “Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” study. When they withdraw at home, they often carry the withdrawing behavior to social situations and what they’re learning at school. The children who “tune-out” at home use that strategy as part of their overall behavioral pattern. Children who live in chaos feel as if they don’t have control over their lives, says Gary Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis and human development, in Cornell University’s “Chronicle Online.”
Though chaos can happen in any home, it’s more likely to occur in families of divorced parents, in families where the work schedules are unpredictable and in low-income neighborhoods, says Evans. Low-income neighborhoods experience more crowded conditions and are twice as loud as middle-class neighborhoods, said Evans. Children also might be unsupervised more in chaotic homes, and they might lack energy and cheerfulness, says Evans.