With a high degree of chaos in the home often comes a family environment that is more psychologically and physically stressful to parents and to children. I’m going to be digging into this and offering some solutions to help you break the control that chaos may be having on your family.
What is ‘chaos’ in the home?
Chaos is when there is regularly a high level of confusion, noise, time pressures, and lack of routines. It can show up in a number of ways.
Confusion is when no one knows exactly what’s going on. For instance, you’re about to walk out the door and realize you really aren’t sure what time your child’s softball game is. Or your child tells you the game is at the usual field, but you have a vague recollection it’s somewhere else this time. However, you don’t feel you can take the time to locate the schedule because you can’t remember where it is and you might be late. You decide to just go ahead and go but discover upon arriving the game started a half hour ago and it is indeed at another field. If something like this has happened to you, you know the stress this causes for you and your child.
Noise is of course fairly self-explanatory. If in your house the TV, or perhaps several, is on constantly, videogames are blasting, music is playing, and people are talking over all of it, it can be very difficult to think, communicate, and relax. You may find yourself repeatedly saying “turn that down, turn that off, be quiet”, and so on. Too much constant noise can keep you and everyone else in your home on edge.
Time pressures are common in families because there are so many things to get done. If you are constantly stretched for time, always rushing, having to cut activities short, being nervous that you can’t make it to the next activity and so on, then you and your family will most likely be feeling quite stressed.
Lack of routines can keep everything up in the air and up for negotiation. If children do not have a set time for activities, you may find yourself constantly nagging or just simply letting it go “this time”. You may also find that you have difficulty getting much done because you have to figure out each day what to do and when, or you stop and start constantly without always finishing. Too much routine can of course make for a rigid and uncomfortable home, but too little can create stress as well.
What does research say about chaos in the home?
Home environment chaos has been linked to negative outcomes for children and teens that are both physical and psychological.
For instance, children and teens in homes high in chaos have more sleep disturbance and sleep less than those in homes low in chaos. This is detrimental because sleep is critical for their healthy growth and development. Another well-established link is that children who live in highly chaotic homes are more likely to have weight issues—namely being overweight. Home chaos is also linked to increased accidental injury.
Chaos in the home impacts parenting negatively as well. Parents are less responsive, involved, vocally stimulating, and less likely to show kids how things work. This has been found to be related to lower cognitive competence, less adequate language development, and children having reduced motivation toward mastery.
But it doesn’t end there for kids. Home chaos is linked with less effective discipline, more behavior problems, less ability of kids to understand and respond to social cues including cooperating with their parent, and poorer psychological adjustment like more depression and stress.
Because the aspects of one’s physical family environment are at least somewhat controllable, when chaos is high parents can feel less competent at parenting. Those who have many small children can often experience a more chaotic family environment. Parents who are depressed or who have attention problems (such as adult ADHD) can have more difficulty establishing and maintaining a smoothly run home.
If you are feeling overwhelmed and stressed as a result of a chaotic home, or you feel your home is chaotic because you feel overwhelmed and stressed in other areas, next up are some strategies for you.
Strategies to reduce home chaos
- Rank the categories as causes and target just the first one to begin.
Think about if it is confusion, noise, time pressures, or lack of routines that is causing the most chaos in your home. If you try to take everything on at once, it will be harder to get and stay motivated and to not continue to be overwhelmed.
Next, make a list of the big trouble spots and come up with 2 or 3 actions you can take. For instance, if it is time pressures, particularly in the morning, your action steps might be:
- Make lunches the night before.
- Don’t hit the snooze button more than once.
- Tell the kids they have to be ready and near the door 5 minutes before it is time to leave.
As you have success with these, you can move onto other areas.
- Prioritize your organization.
Continuing with the morning routine scenario…
It can be tempting to want to clean out a seldom used closet, but if your pantry is causing chaos in the morning as the kids or you are looking for cereal, syrup, lunch items, etc., make that your priority.
If there is regularly a crisis to find shoes, backpacks, homework, and so on each morning, make it a priority to have a station that everything needed for the next day goes to the evening before.
Once these are functioning smoothly, you will be more likely to be motivated and less stressed to tackle additional areas of your home.
- Don’t underestimate the power of routine and add in some fun ones.
Routines are important in reducing chaos because they cut down on many of the battles about meals, homework, baths, bedtime, and so forth. Kids actually like routines even if they push against what they need to do a bit because routines give kids a feeling of safety and security.
Additionally, by adding in fun activities as well, you can help kids be more amenable to routines. So just as you have a routine for homework, have a routine that includes playtime.
- Learn more about yourself and find sources that give you inspiration and support.
Here at Parent in the Know, among the 36 assessments we offer, we have an assessment that measures the amount of chaos being experienced in the home. When you take the Confusion, Hubbub, & Order Scale assessment, you will learn how you compare with other parents and you receive an in-depth interpretative report. The assessment is $12.50 and is completed easily online. You can click here to learn more.
Whether it is easy-to-prepare meals or ideas for how to efficiently organize, there are some great books to give you inspiration. One that I recommend through my Amazon Affiliate Program* is Simplicity Parenting. With excellent reviews, the book covers streamlining belongings and clutter, establishing routines and rituals, scheduling breaks to reduce time pressures, and much more. But even here, reflect and choose the area that is your most substantial ‘pain point’ and begin there.
Living in a chaotic home can bring an enormous amount of stress into your life and the lives of your children. However, by spending time to reflect and to take some first concrete action steps, you can better ensure that your children benefit and experience more optimal outcomes. And you will, too!
Billows, M., Gradisar, M., Dohnt, H., Johnston, A., McCappin, S., & Hudson, J. (2009). Family disorganization, sleep hygiene, and adolescent sleep disturbance. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 38(5), 745-752.
Boles, R. E., Halbower, A. C., Daniels, S., Gunnarsdottir, T., Whitesell, N., & Johnson, S. L. (2017). Family chaos and child functioning in relation to sleep problems among children at risk for obesity. Behavioral Sleep Medicine, 15(2), 114-128.
Dumas, J. E., Nissley, J., Nordstrom, A., Smith, E. P., Prinz, R. J., & Levine, D. W. (2005). Home chaos: Sociodemographic, parenting, interactional, and child correlates. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(1), 93-104.
Human, L. J., Dirks, M. A., DeLongis, A., & Chen, E. (2016). Congruence and incongruence in adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of the family: Using response surface analysis to examine links with adolescents’ psychological adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45(10), 2022-2035.
Wachs, T. D., & Corapci, F. (2003). Environmental chaos, development and parenting across cultures. Social and cognitive development in the context of individual, social and cultural processes, 54-83. New York, NY: Routledge.
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About the Author
Lilla Dale McManis, MEd., PhD., uses her training and experience as a psychologist, child developmentalist, educator, researcher, and parent to promote positive child outcomes through informed and effective practices. Dr. McManis is President & Founder of Parent in the Know. She believes strongly in and enjoys translating research into meaningful practice.
*Parent in the Know is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.
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