The dogs are barking, the laundry is spilling out of its hamper, there are crusty plates in the sink, you forgot you were supposed to bring your son’s snack for his class today, your nerves are shot and then it happens. The one last thing you needed tonight – your kids aren’t doing their homework and now they’re bickering again over who takes the first bath.
This is a day in the life of the modern parent. And, that all that chaos around you is causing your anxiety, forgetfulness and even your kids’ defiant behavior.
There is a current trend towards tidiness, thanks to a well-researched belief that there is a link between mental health and cleanliness.
Your brain on clutter
According to research published in 1998, clutter can affect your ability to focus; specifically, “visual clutter actually suppresses the brain’s responsiveness.”
Another study published in 2010 found that women who described their homes as cluttered or stressful “had flatter diurnal slopes of cortisol.” Cortisol is a stress sensitive hormone and changes in a person’s levels has shown to be an indicator of chronic stress that has been linked with poor health outcomes.
There is also a cyclical effect that occurs with people who are prone to procrastination. When someone is surrounded by “too much stuff”, avoidance behavior kicks in, which typically leads to the accumulation of more clutter.
Chaos and your child’s behavior
Clutter can cause children to be disruptive, is correlated with increased screen use, and may lead to poor performance in school, according to the several studies.
A chaotic environment is defined by noisiness, hurriedness, disorganization, and lacking structure or routine. According to one study, “noisy, crowded homes characterized by a lack of routines may undermine children’s ability to regulate emotions and behavior and may provide children with opportunities to act out.”
These results were not surprising to Dr. Nicole Mavrides, a child psychiatry expert with the University of Miami Health System. Children often don’t know what to do or what is expected of them in a chaotic household, she says. “They also may think that if no one else is listening, why should they?”
When you add structure at home kids do much better, she adds. Create a schedule and make kids take part in tackling the chaos.
Yeah, that sounds great, but how do I do that?
Dr. Mavrides tells her patients’ parents to institute a token or point system. Give your child a way to earn rewards for being good and doing chores around the house.
This really works and can help parents get their kids involved in keeping things tidy around the house, she says. “It makes them feel grown up and that they are in control.”
Natasha Bright is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. Her writing has also been featured on the Huffington Post and Scary Mommy websites.