Chaos is bad for kids. Noisy households with no set routines or predictability contribute to lower IQ and behavior problems in children, according to a new study cited by Dan Willingham on his Washington Post blog. What’s cause and what’s effect? Certainly, he notes, household chaos could easily correlate with plenty of other issues that could negatively impact children, such as a death in the family or unemployment.
To get around that problem the authors took a broad spectrum of measures from each family: the parents’ education level, parent’s IQ, a measure of the literacy environment in the home (number of books and so on), the housing situation, a measure of parental warmth/negativity, and a measure of stressful events. The researchers then used techniques to statistically remove the effects of these other variables before they tested for an effect of chaos on the child’s IQ and on the child’s conduct. They found that chaos in the home was negatively associated with each.
The study has some drawbacks, not the least of which, Willingham notes, is that it could be harder to maintain an orderly home if you have a defiant child. “On the other hand, among the factors that influence your child, chaos is one of the easier ones to address. It’s hard to make myself smarter or to change my housing situation,” he concludes.
It would be interesting to see the same approach applied to classrooms. It’s not hard to imagine higher level of student achievement, if not IQ, in classrooms that are well managed and orderly. At the very least, the lack of those qualities is one of the most visible signposts of poorly run schools.