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Can a Messy House Affect Behavior in Children?

by Sara Ipatenco, studioD

A messy house is usually part of having children. After all, children are messy creatures who tend to leave paths of destruction in their wake, as well as piles of dirty clothes and plenty of dirty dishes, too. While the occasional stack of papers, collection of small toys or pile of used art supplies are messes with which all households deal, a consistently messy house can actually impact how your children behave.

Structure and Routine

Children thrive on routine and structure, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' HealthyChildren.org website. In other words, they like to know what's going to happen next and that they can count on things happening the way they expect. A messy house can interfere with that feeling of stability because the messes can get in the way of the usual routine. For example, a table stacked with papers and clutter will prevent you from having a family meal, and piles of dirty laundry can lead to a meltdown when your child's favorite shirt isn't clean for school. A messy house can lead to problem behavior, too. In fact, a messy home is more predictive of bad behavior than parenting style alone, according to a 2006 article published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines.

Inabiliy to Concentrate

Children who are bombarded with visual stimuli often have a hard time concentrating. A 2011 study published in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that when children have a large number of things competing for their attention at once, they have a more difficult time focusing on one thing at a time. If your child is trying to do her homework at the kitchen table but is surrounded with dirty dishes, stacks of papers and toys, she's going to find it more challenging to focus on her school work because she might be intrigued by a toy or curious about what the papers say. A messy playroom makes it hard to find a spot to play, but it also makes it harder for a child to choose a toy to play with because there are too many interesting choices.

Health Factors

In some cases, a messy house can also be an unsanitary home. Letting dirty dishes pile up in the sink or leaving dropped food on the floor can lead to the growth of bacteria that can make your child sick. That's especially true if you have a baby or toddler that still puts everything into his mouth. According to the U.S. Green Building's Green Home Guide website, dust can expose your child to high levels of lead. When your child has high levels of lead in her blood, it can impact brain development, which can influence her behavior. Mold can have similar effects on the brain. If you smoke cigarettes in the house, the smoke will stick to surfaces, causing them to become contaminated. Exposure to this second- and third-hand smoke can interfere with your child's brain and lung development.

Cleaning Up the Mess

It can be challenging to find the time to thoroughly clean your house once a week, so break the job into smaller, more manageable chunks. Assign a day of the week to each room of your home so you might clean the bathrooms on Mondays, do the laundry on Tuesdays and mop the floors on Wednesdays. When you can complete a chore in 10 to 15 minutes, you're more likely to keep your home cleaner. It's much easier to find that short amount of time in your busy schedule than the several hours it takes to clean the whole house at one time. Give your spouse and children chores, too, so the dishes get put in the dishwasher, the dirty clothes get put in the hamper and the toys get put away on a daily basis.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

Photo Credits

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