WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Parents wanting to help their children adjust to life's stresses may want to turn down the noise in their home, says a Purdue University professor of psychological sciences.
"Kids who come from highly noisy or chaotic homes experience less cognitive growth, delayed language skills, have trouble mastering their environments and have increased anxiety," says Theodore Wachs.
Wachs studies environmental influences on early childhood development. He helped create a questionnaire for parents to fill out to measure the level of physical disorganization in the home. The "chaos" questionnaire assesses what he calls "the noise confusion of the home."
He says a chaotic home is one factor associated with adjustment problems in children. For example, in a study of preschool children's reaction to caregiver turnover in day care centers, those from more disorganized homes had more trouble adapting and functioning during the time of change.
"The effects vary with the temperament and sex of the child," he says. "Those who have the most trouble associated with a chaotic home life are boys who are intense, fussy or negative."
Wachs offers these suggestions for toning down "noise confusion" in the home:
- Turn off the TV. "If it's only on for background noise, that's a major source of
distraction," he says.
- Establish a quiet place where children can go to get away by themselves. "Even if
it's a closet, at least they have some space to themselves," Wachs says. He advises
parents to read to their children in quiet places, too.
- Impose a regular schedule. He says children need to be able to anticipate when things will happen. "They also need to know that things have a location. Don't put all the toys in one area. Leave out a few and put the rest away. Then you can rotate the toys as the children tire of playing with them," he says.