Skip to main content

The relationship between household chaos and child, parent, and family outcomes: a systematic scoping review

A Commentary to this article was published on 01 May 2020



Household chaos, represented by the level of disorganisation or environmental confusion in the home, has been associated with a range of adverse child and family outcomes. This review aims to (1) identify how household chaos is measured, (2) chart study details of household chaos literature, and (3) map the existing literature with respect to the relationship between household chaos and child, parent, and family outcomes. We expect that this review will highlight the need to consider the importance of household chaos in child well-being research, particularly in those families where children may be more vulnerable to the adverse effects of household chaos.


We searched five electronic databases (last updated September 1st 2018) in addition to Google Scholar, and identified publications via a 3-stage screening process, which was conducted by two researchers. Published studies were included if they investigated the association between household chaos and child, parent, or family outcomes. Research that investigated household chaos as a mediator or moderator, or that investigated how the relationship between household chaos and the outcome of interest was mediated or moderated, were also included.


One hundred twelve studies in 111 publications were included. The majority were conducted in the United States (n = 71), and used either cross-sectional (n = 60) or longitudinal (n = 49) study designs. Outcomes of interest were categorised into seven categories: (1) cognitive and academic (n = 16), (2) socio-emotional and behavioural (n = 60), (3) communication (n = 6), (4) parenting, family, and household functioning (n = 21), (5) parent outcomes (n = 6), (6) hormone (n = 8), and (7) physical health and health behaviours (n = 19). There was consistent evidence for significant correlations between household chaos and adverse outcomes across all seven categories in diverse populations with respect to age, disease status, and socio-economic status (SES).


There is consistent evidence for associations between household chaos and a number of adverse child, parent, and family-level outcomes. Household chaos may also help describe variations in outcomes between low SES and child development.

Peer Review reports

Household chaos represents the level of disorganisation or environmental confusion in the family home, and is characterised by high levels of background stimulation, lack of family routines, absence of predictability and structure in daily activities, and an overly fast pace of family life [1, 2]. Importantly, the construct of household chaos has been associated with a diverse range of adverse childhood outcomes, including poorer social-emotional functioning, cognitive development, academic achievement, and behavioural problems [3,4,5,6,7,8,9].

Household chaos has been linked with caregiver education, family income, and, perhaps not surprisingly, the number of people living in the household, whereby a lower level of caregiver education, lower family income, and a greater number of people in the home are associated with greater levels of chaos [10]. Despite this, the construct also been demonstrated to be distributed across socioeconomic status (SES) [10], and further, associations between household chaos and adverse child outcomes remain after controlling for SES [3, 11]. For example, one study showed that household chaos was associated with reduced cognitive ability and IQ in children, even after controlling for parent education/IQ, the home literacy environment, parental negativity, parental warmth, stressful events, and housing conditions [3]. Household chaos may therefore represent a unique risk factor for various adverse childhood outcomes, rather than simply reflecting residual confounding with, for example, SES [10].

In addition to the main effects of household chaos, the construct has also been shown to both mediate and moderate relationships between known child risk factors and adverse outcomes. For example, one study documented that the relationship between household chaos and maternal executive function was moderated by SES, suggesting that the adverse effects of household chaos may be exacerbated in socioeconomically distressed contexts [12]. Other studies have also shown that household chaos may mediate relationships between child behavioural problems and bedtime resistance [13], and poverty and socioemotional adjustment [14].

Given the varied ways in which household chaos is associated with adverse child outcomes, it is not surprising that there appears to be growing interest in the construct. Yet despite this interest, and a seemingly large body of evidence demonstrating links between household chaos and a range of adverse child outcomes, no review has been conducted in this field to date. To this end, the goal of this study was to undertake a review to investigate the relationship between household chaos and child-, parent-, and family-level outcomes.

We decided that the ideal method of synthesising the knowledge base at this time, due to the disparate nature of outcomes assessed, age range and disease status of participants, frequency and duration of follow-up, and study designs used, was a systematic scoping review. The scoping review methodology allowed us to (1) investigate how household chaos is measured, (2) summarise the research on how household chaos is included as a primary risk factor of child, parent, and family outcomes, and (3) map the existing literature, with respect to relationships between household chaos and child, parent, and family outcomes. This enabled us to assess not only how household chaos is measured, which is necessary to ensure findings are generalisable across studies, but also what dimensions have been investigated. It also enabled us to summarise the extant scientific research without focussing on a specific outcome, research design, study population (e.g. disease population), or setting [15], therefore allowing us to make recommendations for future systematic reviews and meta-analysis within the field. This review seems timely given that there is also a need to better understand if effects are independent of other known risk factors, or instead reflect an important confounding factor.


Identification of studies

Published scoping review guidelines directed the conduct of this review [16,17,18,19,20]. The protocol for this scoping review was not registered. MEDLINE, PubMed, Embase, PsycINFO, and Child Development & Adolescent Studies were searched from inception through to 1 June 2017, with updated searches run on 8 November 2017 and 1 September 2018. We also ran a general search of ‘household chaos’ in Google Scholar and assessed hits from the first 100 pages of results for eligibility. An iterative process was used to develop the search strategy. Words associated with potential child, parent, and family outcomes (e.g. attention, aggression, diet, sleep, literacy, parent-child interactions) were combined with words and concepts associated with household chaos (e.g. household chaos, family disorganisation), and words associated with our sample of interest (e.g. children, adolescents, mothers, fathers, family). These combinations were used to form search strings, which were applied and run in the different databases. Filters were used to limit the search to studies available in English. The reference lists of all included manuscripts were searched for any additional articles not identified in by the electronic search. Full details of the MEDLINE search strategy are provided in Table 1. The grey literature was not searched.

Table 1 Search strategy utilised for MEDLINE (from inception to September 2018)

Study selection

Publications identified through our search strategy went through three stages of screening. During the first stage, titles were screened to establish their relevance to the research question. If relevance could not be established from the title, the study was included in the next stage of screening. During the second stage, abstracts of the selected titles were reviewed according to our inclusion criteria. During the third step, full text articles of the abstracts selected during the previous stage were retrieved and further assessed for relevance. Two researchers conducted this process and disagreements were settled first by discussion and, if necessary, by consultation with a third researcher.

Inclusion criteria

We included any published research that investigated the association between measures of household chaos and child, parent, or family outcomes, including health, cognitive, and psychosocial outcomes, as well as family-level processes. We also included any published research that investigated household chaos as a mediator or moderator and any studies that investigated how the relationship between household chaos and the outcomes of interest were mediated or moderated.

Due to the scoping nature of this review, we included healthy children and parents, in addition to those with diagnosed medical conditions, developmental delays, and behavioural disorders. No limits were set on study design. We included any study that investigated the effects of the household chaos construct; including studies that used terms such as home chaos, environment chaos (restricted to the home), chaotic homes/households, hurried homes, family chaos, chaotic families, and chaotic living. In addition, given that household disorganisation is a defining feature of household chaos, we also included studies that investigated the effects of family disorganisation and household instability.

While lack of family routines and family meals may represent one dimension of the household chaos construct, alone they are not a proxy measure for household chaos. Recently it was shown that household chaos and family routines may actually represent two distinct constructs and, further, that lack of family routines represents a pathway through which household chaos adversely affects child outcomes [21]. For these reasons, studies focusing primarily on routines (and those specifically using the Family Routine Inventory) and/or frequency of family meals only were not included in the review.

Data extraction and synthesis

For each included trial, two authors extracted data using an extraction form designed and pre-tested for the purpose of this review. Final data extraction was completed in October 2018. Information extracted from each eligible study included: author(s), year of publication, manuscript title, name of cohort/study, study location, health status of child and/or parent, diagnosed conditions of child and/or parent, SES details, location details (i.e. rural or urban), study aim, whether household chaos was the primary focus of the study, study design, duration and number of follow-ups, whether the study investigated twins/parent-child dyads/individual child/family, number of children/families included, age range of included participants, ethnicity, how household chaos was measured, whether household chaos was reported in the results, outcomes of interest (specifically related to household chaos), whether household chaos was assessed as a mediator and/or moderator, whether the relationship between household chaos and the outcome was mediated and/or moderated, and study results.

Data were summarised to record the number of studies retrieved by country, year of publication, study type, and any characteristics of the population (e.g. low SES, disease status). Outcomes of interest were categorised into seven broad categories (Table 2): (1) cognitive and academic (2) socio-emotional and behavioural, (3) communication, (4) parenting, family, and household functioning, (5) parent outcomes (6) hormone, and (7) physical health and health behaviours. Studies could be included in multiple categories of outcomes if they reported outcomes that fell across different categories. A narrative review is provided for each outcome measure of interest.

Table 2 Specific outcomes by outcome category


A total of 661 manuscripts were identified from searches of databases, Google Scholar, and reference lists, of which 218 were duplicates, leaving 443 that were screened for eligibility. Of these, 295 were removed at the title and abstract screening stages, leaving 148 for eligibility screening of full-text articles. After removal of 51 articles due to ineligibility, and inclusion of an additional 6 and 8 articles from the two updated searches in November 2017 and September 2018, respectively, 111 manuscripts (representing 112 studies) were considered eligible and included in the review (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1

Illustrates the different steps of the data collection process

Studies were excluded for a number of reasons: (1) household chaos was included within a composite measure of family functioning or household environment, (2) no child, parent, or family outcomes were reported, (3) only predictors of household chaos were assessed, (4) the construct of household chaos was not adequately measured (i.e. a different construct was measured), (5) household chaos was only included as a covariate in the analysis and not reported in the results, (6) the paper reported simulation data, and (7) the paper was retracted.

A summary of characteristics of the included studies can be found in Table 3. Overall there was generally an even mix of cross-sectional and longitudinal study designs (n = 57 vs n = 52), in addition to two experimental/laboratory studies and one case-control study. With respect to the longitudinal studies, samples were primarily drawn from large, nationally representative, longitudinal cohorts, which was reflected in the relatively large number of analyses conducted in sample sizes of greater than 1000 participants (24/104; 23%).

Table 3 Summary of characteristics of included studies

There has been an increasing trend in recent years in the number of manuscripts investigating the relationship between household chaos and child/parent/family outcomes (Fig. 2), with the majority of publications from research conducted in the USA (n = 74) and the UK (n = 21) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2

Number of household chaos publications by year

Fig. 3

Number of published studies/analyses by country

Methods of household chaos assessment

Studies varied somewhat in the method of household chaos assessment, although overwhelmingly the most frequently used methods were the long-form version of the Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale (CHAOS) [22] (n = 44) and the short-form version of CHAOS [23] (n = 42). The long-form version consists of 15 questions in a True-False response format, with each item reflecting household characteristics that directly represent a chaotic home environment, while at the same time specifically excluding any items that represent adequacy of the dwelling or quality of furnishings, or imply unsanitary conditions. The questionnaire was developed to be used in families regardless of the child’s age, and has been demonstrated to have satisfactory internal consistency, test-rest reliability, and adequate psychometric properties [22]. The short-form version of CHAOS consists of six items rated on a five-point scale (1 = definitely untrue, 5 = definitely true), which has been demonstrated to have acceptable internal consistency [23]. Another 10 studies used adapted long- and short-versions of CHAOS, and the remaining 16 studies relied on questionnaires developed specifically for the study and/or direct observation in the home.

Outcomes of interest

A summary of study characteristics, including sample size, age of participants, study design, SES status of participants, measure of household chaos, and outcome/s of interest can be found in Table 4. Here we provide a brief narrative review of study findings, with outcomes of interest mapped into seven categories.

Table 4 Outcomes of interest

Cognitive and academic

Sixteen manuscripts were identified that investigated the relationship between household chaos and cognitive/academic outcomes [3, 7, 11, 24,25,26,27,28,29,30,31,32,33,34,35,36]. The studies covered the spectrum of age groups, from very early childhood to later adolescence, although the majority were conducted in young children (i.e. ≤5 years). Outcomes assessed included executive function, IQ, general cognitive ability, and a range of academic measures, including reading comprehension, academic achievement, study skills, and learning. Overall, household chaos was consistently associated with adverse cognitive and academic outcomes. There was also evidence for an effect of household chaos on outcomes after controlling for SES [3, 30, 32]. However, null findings were reported in 2 of the 16 studies; one study (n = 203) did not find a significant relationship between household chaos and cognitive performance [33], while another study (n = 65) failed to demonstrate a significant relationship between household chaos and intelligence, academic achievement, and executive functioning in 6–16 years olds [36].

Socio-emotional and behavioural

The majority of studies investigated the relationship between household chaos and socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes [3, 4, 6, 10, 14, 24, 25, 28, 29, 31,32,33, 37,38,39,40,41,42,43,44,45,46,47,48,49,50,51,52,53,54,55,56,57,58,59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78,79,80,81,82,83], although 18/59 of these studies only investigated household chaos as a mediator or moderator in the relationship between a predictor and a socio-emotional/behaviour outcome. Outcomes included responses to challenges, social skills/competence, emotion regulation, risky behaviours, attention, aspirations, aggression, conduct problems, and callous-unemotional traits. Overwhelmingly, household chaos was shown to be associated with adverse outcomes in both younger children and adolescents [3, 4, 6, 10, 25, 31,32,33, 38, 41,42,43,44, 49, 55, 57, 62,63,64, 67, 68, 72, 80, 82, 83]; however, it was not shown to be associated with self-regulation and effortful control [53, 83], empathy [64], sexual risk or other violent behaviours in adolescents [44], or occupational aspirations in 7 year olds [47].


A total of six manuscripts investigated the link between household chaos and communication, all of which were conducted in the early childhood setting [6, 7, 23, 25, 84, 85]. Outcomes assessed included non-verbal abilities, receptive and expressive language, and phonological awareness. Household chaos was consistently linked with adverse effects on communication outcomes across all six analyses. After controlling for all other measures of household chaos, lack of routines was significantly associated with lower receptive vocabulary scores in 5 year olds [6], and in an analysis that controlled for 13 covariates, including maternal education and poverty, household disorganisation was associated with significant decreases in both receptive and expressive language in 3-year-old children (n = 1145) [85]. Finally, when investigating the heritability of cognitive abilities as a function of the child’s early environment, household chaos, which is classified as a proximal environmental determinant, had stronger effects than distal environmental determinants (e.g. SES) on the heritability of verbal ability [84].

Parenting, and family and household functioning

Twenty-one studies investigated the effects of household chaos on parenting and family functioning [4, 10, 45, 75, 85,86,87,88,89,90,91,92,93,94,95,96,97,98,99,100,101], of which five focused on the role of household chaos as a mediator or moderator. Outcomes assessed included parenting, parent-child interactions, discipline, sibling relationships, parental response and reactions to child behaviours, family dysfunction, and food insecurity. Household chaos was associated with increased parent-child conflict, decreased parent-child closeness, decreased supportive parenting, decreased positive parenting, and increased negative parenting [87], in addition to less favourable co-parenting, and less emotional availability at bedtime [98]. A chaotic home environment was also shown to be associated with less responsive and less stimulating parenting [88], less effective parental discipline [10], greater non-supportive responses to children’s emotions and fewer supportive responses [75, 93], and greater paternal hostility [94]. Greater chaos in the home was associated with increased odds of household members disturbing the efforts of adolescents to fall asleep, and decreased the odds of adolescents reporting that nothing was keeping them awake or making it difficult to sleep [96]. Finally, cumulative family disorganisation, but not cumulative family instability, was indirectly associated with children’s representation of family dysfunction in drawings, through parenting behaviours [100].

Food insecure households were more likely to have greater household chaos scores compared with food secure households, even after controlling for education and marital status, with higher chaos homes reporting less planning around mealtimes [90]. In another study, high and medium household chaos homes were more likely to experience low or very low food security compared with low chaos homes [95]. Further, low chaos predicted greater availability of fruits and vegetables in the home and more family meals, while high chaos was a significant predictor of food insecurity risk and greater availability of salty and fatty snacks [101].

Parent outcomes

The relationship between household chaos and parent outcomes, including maternal executive function, parent sleep, parent feeding behaviours and weight status, and maternal depression, were assessed in six studies [12, 101,102,103,104,105], of which two studies included sample sizes of less than 50 participants [102, 104], and all of which were conducted in the early childhood setting. Household chaos was associated with poorer maternal executive function (n = 153), although the modest effect of household chaos overlapped with the effects of co-varying factors, including SES and verbal ability [12]. In parents of children aged 18 months to 5 years (n = 44), household chaos was significantly associated with fat intake and high serum cortisol levels; however, the relationship between household chaos and fat intake appeared to be somewhat mediated by cortisol levels, although this relationship was not significant [102]. In mothers of children aged 2–5 years (n = 550), high chaos was associated with greater engagement in emotional and disinhibited eating, while mothers in low chaos households were more likely to be adventurous eaters [101].

Household chaos was lower in mothers with trajectories of low-stable levels of depression compared with moderate-increasing levels of depression, but not in those with remitting depression [103]. In mothers of infants [104], household chaos was strongly correlated with measures of maternal depression, sleep, wake disturbances, and fatigue. Similarly, mothers and fathers of infants in high chaos homes demonstrated greater variability in sleep duration compared with low chaos families, while parental sleep fragmentation mirrored that of the child in low chaos homes, where fragmented sleep decreased for both the parents and child over the course of the first year [105].


Eight studies investigated the role of household chaos in cortisol and autonomic nervous system activity, inflammatory profiles, and gut biomarkers [60, 106,107,108,109,110,111,112], with sample sizes ranging from 32 to 1292 participants. For stress physiology, household chaos in early childhood was associated with (1) a blunted diurnal cortisol slope in middle school [112], (2) cortisol levels in 7 year olds who had lower levels of resting heart rate variability [106], (3) stable morning cortisol levels in 6 year olds [60], and (4) lowered morning cortisol levels in 3–4 year olds [108]. In 13–16 year olds [111], household chaos was associated with increased systemic inflammation, interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels, and C-reactive protein levels, although the relationship between chaos and systematic inflammation and IL-6 levels was moderated by SES. In participants aged 18–66 years, household chaos was not related with hair cortisol levels [110] or gut-derived biomarkers associated with appetite and regulation [109].

Physical health, health behaviours and communication disorders

Overall, 19 analyses were conducted that investigated the role of household chaos on health and health behaviours: (1) 9 papers specifically looked at physical health outcomes, disease, and communication disorder outcomes [82, 101, 108, 113,114,115,116,117,118], including glycaemic control, child health, weight status, and stutter, (2) 3 studies investigated diet and dietary behaviours [101, 119, 120], (3) 6 studies looked at sleep [13, 52, 96, 105, 121, 122], and (4) 2 studies assessed other outcomes, including TV viewing behaviours in a laboratory setting [123] and mothers’ perceptions on children’s physical activity [124]. For glycaemic control, both maternal and paternal household chaos scores were positively associated with HbA1c in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes [114] and in children aged 1–13 years with type 1 diabetes mellitus [116]. Chaotic homes were also linked with low cortisol levels (hypocorticolism) in children aged 3–4 years, which in turn predicted overweight in girls, both directly and indirectly through the mediating role of satiety responsiveness, and in boys, indirectly through the mediating role of emotional overeating [108]. In infants followed during the first year of life, household chaos was also found to significantly predict weight-for-height z-scores, even after controlling for possible confounders [118].

Chaos was found to be associated with maternal feeding goals [120], with lower household chaos associated with more positive maternal feeding goals, such as promotion of child autonomy around eating. Greater household chaos was also shown to be associated with greater consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in preschoolers [101]. Further, chaos was associated with mother-report of general child health, even after controlling for SES, maternal health status, and family structure [115]. Similarly for older children, self-report of household chaos in 10-year-olds was associated with worse physical health 2 years later [82].

With respect to sleep, a more chaotic home environment was associated with mixed effects on sleep outcomes in adolescents, including sleep onset latency and sleep duration [121, 122]; however, in younger children greater scores for household chaos were significantly associated with higher parent-reported scores for bedtime resistance, sleep anxiety, and total sleep problems [13]. One study found that infants from highly chaotic homes demonstrated delays in sleep consolidation patterns and greater fragmentation of sleep; however, they also reported longer and more variable sleep duration compared with infants in low chaos homes [105]. The authors suggested that this unexpected difference in sleep duration may have reflected a higher quality of sleep in the low chaos households, where sleep was less fragmented and bedtimes and wake times less variable. Chaos in the home environment was not found to be associated with maternal perceptions about physical activity in children [124], stutter severity in children with stutter [117],TV viewing behaviours (i.e. looking patterns) in a laboratory setting [123], or eating in the absence of hunger in low-income toddlers [119].

Mediation and moderation analyses

Table 5 presents results from studies where mediation and moderation analyses were conducted. Household chaos was consistently found to mediate the relationship between predictors of adverse child outcomes. Importantly, a number of studies demonstrated the mediating role of chaotic homes between SES and outcomes [14, 26, 107], suggesting that the adverse effects of low SES on child outcomes may, at least in part, be mediated by the effects of household chaos. Further, chaotic environments were also shown to moderate the relationship between several predictors of adverse children and family outcomes, including SES [50], parenting [24, 45, 58], and parental executive function [40], whereby the effects of these predictors were more pronounced in highly chaotic homes. A number of studies also demonstrated the mediating role of parenting on the relationship between household chaos and adverse child outcomes (Table 6) [6, 76, 85, 91], where adverse parenting behaviours may partially explain the relationship between chaos and child outcomes.

Table 5 Household Chaos as mediator and/or moderator
Table 6 Mediation and moderation analysis of relationship between household chaos and outcome


The aim of this scoping review was to provide a general summary of the extant research investigating household chaos in children and their families, with respect to (1) measurement tools used, (2) study details, and (3) outcomes assessed. The review found that research to date predominantly relied on either the short- or long-form version of the CHAOS scale, was conducted in either the U.S or U.K, and utilised primarily cross-sectional or longitudinal study designs. Almost a quarter of the research was undertaken in large, nationally representative samples of over 1000 study participants, and mostly focussed on young, healthy children. Both direct and indirect relationships between household chaos and outcomes were investigated, with the majority of studies assessing the relationship between household chaos and socio-emotional and behavioural outcomes. While an in-depth analysis of findings and assessment of bias was beyond the scope of this review, a preliminary summation of the research showed consistency in the evidence for significant relationships between household chaos and adverse effects across seven categories of outcomes in diverse populations with respect to age, disease status, and SES. To the best of our knowledge, this scoping review is the first review to map the literature within this field.

The review demonstrated that household chaos appears to influence a range of child, parent, and family outcomes. The breadth of these findings are not surprising given the diverse ways household chaos potentially interferes with processes in the home environment known to support healthy child development [125]. For example, evidence suggests that parenting behaviours and parent-child interactions are compromised within chaotic home environments [12, 39, 89, 126]. Parents in chaotic homes have been shown to be less responsive, less stimulating, more likely to interfere with children’s attempts at exploration, less likely to provide scaffolding, and more likely to engage in harsher discipline [2]. Not surprisingly, parenting was found to mediate the relationship between household chaos and a number of outcomes, including sibling relationship quality [91], child behaviours [64], receptive and expressive language [85], and children’s representation of family dysfunction [100]. Yet, it was also shown that even in the presence of positive parenting, such as maternal monitoring, the adverse effects of household chaos remain, suggesting that the negative effects of living in a chaotic home environment may not always be overcome by positive parenting practices [71].

It has also been suggested that the mechanism through which chaos impacts on parents is through increasing levels of stress and distraction, resulting in reduced regulatory functioning of the prefrontal lobe, and thus rendering even parents with normal to high emotional regulation and cognitive control compromised in their ability to parent effectively [127]. For example, household chaos has been shown to moderate the relationship between parenting behaviours and child outcomes, whereby chaos exacerbates the effects of negative parenting behaviours and undermines the effects of positive parenting behaviours [4, 24, 26, 58, 73, 92, 97].

Household chaos has also consistently been found to impact on measures of stress physiology in young children, and thus may represent a form of toxic, albeit low-level, stress [106, 128]. Toxic stress in childhood has been linked with increased risk of negative health outcomes in later life [129], and one potential pathway connecting toxic stress in childhood and adult health is through an altered stress response [130]. Exposure to household chaos during the preschool years was shown to be associated with a blunted diurnal cortisol slope in middle childhood [112], and further, household chaos was found to partially mediate the relationship between low SES and cortisol levels [107]. These findings are concerning as a blunted diurnal cortisol slope, which is considered maladaptive, has been identified as a precursor to a number of diseases and disorders in adulthood [131]. As such, household chaos may signify an aspect of toxic stress in childhood that should be considered by public health researchers.

It may also be that household chaos impedes child development directly through effects on attention allocation and information-processing skills [1]. In the context of a home environment with high frequency or high levels of distractions and background noise, the child develops adaptive techniques for filtering out stimulation; however, these techniques may not be selective, meaning that stimulation that facilitates development is also inadvertently filtered out [132]. Importantly, technological advances in the last 10 years may have created greater opportunities for children to be exposed to background media stimulation. For emphasis, it is possible that newer media devices, such as Smartphones, have increased the level of background media distraction that children are exposed to in the modern home environment. These newer devices not only interfere with child attention processes, but can also reduce responsive parenting behaviours. A recent review found that increased mobile connectivity distracts parents from parent-child interactions, and that distracted parents are more likely to be less responsive and sensitive to the needs of their children [133]. Further, a 2018 cross-sectional study in preschool-aged children (n = 385) found that greater levels of household chaos were associated with increased total screen use in pre-schoolers and screen-use behaviours related to disrupted nighttime sleep [134]. Future research will need to determine whether screen use mediates the relationship between household chaos and outcomes, or alternatively, whether new media devices contribute to the household chaos construct itself.

We also identified a number of studies demonstrating the mediating role of household chaos between risk factors and adverse child outcomes. Of particular interest was the potential role household chaos plays in explaining, at least in part, the relationship between SES and chid outcomes. For example, household chaos was found to mediate the relationship between low SES and daily cortisol output [107], socioemotional adjustment [14], academic achievement (via the disorganisation pathway rather than the instability pathway) [26], and emotional problems [70], but not conduct problems in children with ADHD [47]. More generally, household chaos was also shown to mediate relationships between child sleep and anxiety [52], child behavioural problems and sleep resistance [13], and maternal self-regulation and infant distress to limitations [39].

Finally, household chaos was also shown to moderate the relationship between risk/protective factors and outcomes. For example, children in high chaos homes were shown to be more vulnerable to risk factors, such as hostile parenting [82], and less likely to benefit from positive parenting practices, such as parental control [59]. Alternatively, children in lower chaos homes appeared more likely to benefit from protective factors, such as parental monitoring [81]. A systematic review of these studies is required to document the evidence supporting the mediating and moderating roles of household chaos between risk/protective factors and child outcomes.

This review had a number of strengths and limitations. The scoping review methodology allowed us to map a heterogeneous research area, providing an overview of research within a field that has previously escaped comprehensive review [19]. It also enabled us to summarise research using a variety of study designs and methodologies, and assess a large number of outcomes across several categories. As a result, this scoping review provides a comprehensive overview of published evidence investigating the construct of household chaos, with no limitations on study design, outcomes of interest, context, or age groups. Further, the review appears timely, given the potential for an increasing level of chaos in the daily lives of families [115], in addition to the increasing number of studies published in the field in recent years.

However, scoping reviews are not without their limitations. While we provided a general narrative overview of findings, more work is required to further analyse and synthesise the findings reported in the included studies. Additionally, we did not conduct an assessment of study quality, in line with scoping review guidelines [15], and therefore it is not possible to comment on the quality of the research reported herein, and further, while we followed recommended guidelines for conducting scoping reviews, we did not undertake the optional consultation process. The considerable heterogeneity across studies, with respect to study designs, methodologies, and outcomes of interest, may also be considered a weakness, as it did not allow in-depth synthesis of the findings, and therefore difficulty in identifying nuances in the research, such as critical windows of exposure. Finally, our reliance on published data only subjected the review to publication bias; however, the decision was made to exclude the grey literature, given the large number of published studies identified by the original search.

Our findings highlighted that the majority of research in the area has been conducted in U.S and U.K populations, and as such, studies from other countries may be needed to better understand how chaotic home environments affect families within different cultural contexts. Research is also needed to assess whether household chaos has been increasing in recent years, and if so, if this increase is across the population or only within specific sub-groups. Drivers of this potential change should also be investigated. For example, widespread social changes may have reduced a family’s ability to engage in routines, an important pathway by which household chaos may negatively affect children [6]. Families today are more likely to have two parents who work [135], and children who are cared for outside the family home [136]. These activities may increase family disorganisation and environmental confusion, through increasing logistical demands, feelings of hurriedness, and increasing perceptions of time scarcity, which in turn may result in decreased engagement in important family routines and rituals [137]. Finally, while high levels of household chaos negatively influence children and families, it is unknown whether there is an ideal lower limit of household chaos, below which adverse effects of an ‘overly structured household’ may occur.

Identifying, targeting, and effectively reducing household chaos may offer a unique course of action for (1) improving child, parent, and family outcomes, (2) tackling social, behavioural, cognitive, and health problems linked with low SES in childhood [107], and (3) increasing the impact of family-based programmes designed to improve child outcomes. Yet we do not believe it is possible to make recommendations for practice as our scoping review did not assess the methodological quality of the included research [15]. Before recommendations can be made, we suggest the need for systematic reviews that focus on specific outcomes of interest, pathways linking chaos and outcomes, and the mediating and moderating role of household chaos between risk and protective factors and child outcomes. These reviews would allow for an assessment of study quality and would enable recommendations to be made about how findings could inform practice. Studies are also needed to assess whether it is possible to reduce household chaos. To the best of our knowledge, no interventions have been undertaken with the primary aim of targeting household chaos and as such no tools are currently available that have demonstrable effectiveness in reducing chaos in the family home. Further, it remains to be seen whether a reduction in household chaos actually translates into positive outcomes for children, parents, and families.


Our review identified a diverse body of literature investigating the construct of household chaos. We found that chaotic home environments appear to correlate with a broad spectrum of adverse child, parent, and family outcomes, potentially describe, at least to some extent, the relationship between low SES and adverse outcomes, undermine positive parenting behaviours, and exacerbate negative parenting behaviours. Future research is needed to investigate whether household chaos has been increasing in recent years, what factors may have driven the hypothesised increase in household chaos, whether newer mobile media devices create greater opportunity for the experience of household chaos, and, if so, how to capture this in a new or updated measurement tool. The effects of the construct on outcomes also need to be investigated in other cultural contexts, and programmes developed to not only investigate how household chaos can effectively be reduced, but also assess whether a reduction in household chaos translates into improved outcomes. Before recommendations to inform practice can be made, we propose the undertaking of systematic reviews looking at specific outcomes of interest and the pathways through which household chaos impacts on child, parent, and family outcomes.

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.





Socio-economic status


Confusion, Hubbub, and Order Scale


  1. 1.

    Wachs TD, Evans GW. Chaos in context; 2010.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Ackerman BP, Brown ED. Physical and psychosocial turmoil in the home and cognitive development; 2010.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Deater-Deckard K, Mullineaux PY, Beekman C, Petrill SA, Schatschneider C, Thompson LA. Conduct problems, IQ, and household chaos: a longitudinal multi-informant study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009;50(10):1301–8.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Coldwell J, Pike A, Dunn J. Household chaos–links with parenting and child behaviour. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2006;47(11):1116–22.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Wachs TD, Chan A. Specificity of environmental action, as seen in environmental correlates of infants’ communication performance. Child Dev. 1986;v57:1464–74.

  6. 6.

    Martin A, Razza RA, Brooks-Gunn J. Specifying the links between household chaos and preschool children’s development. Early Child Dev Care. 2012;182(10):1247–63.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Johnson AD, Martin A, Brooks-Gunn J, Petrill SA. Order in the house! Associations among household chaos, the home literacy environment, maternal reading ability, and children’s early reading. Merrill Palmer Q (Wayne State Univ Press). 2008;54(4):445.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Aiello JR, Nicosia G, Thompson DE. Physiological, social, and behavioral consequences of crowding on children and adolescents. Child Dev. 1979;v50:195–202.

  9. 9.

    Boles RE, Halbower AC, Daniels S, Gunnarsdottir T, Whitesell N, Johnson SL. Family chaos and child functioning in relation to sleep problems among children at risk for obesity. Behav Sleep Med. 2016;v182:1–15.

  10. 10.

    Dumas JE, Nissley J, Nordstrom A, Smith EP, Prinz RJ, Levine DW. Home chaos: sociodemographic, parenting, interactional, and child correlates. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2005;34(1):93–104.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Hart SA, Petrill SA, Deckard KD, Thompson LA. SES and CHAOS as environmental mediators of cognitive ability: a longitudinal genetic analysis. Intelligence. 2007;35(3):233–42.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Deater-Deckard K, Chen N, Wang Z, Bell MA. Socioeconomic risk moderates the link between household chaos and maternal executive function. J Fam Psychol. 2012;26(3):391–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Boles RE, Halbower AC, Daniels S, Gunnarsdottir T, Whitesell N, Johnson SL. Family chaos and child functioning in relation to sleep problems among children at risk for obesity. Behav Sleep Med. 2017;15(2):114–28.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Evans GW, Gonnella C, Marcynyszyn LA, Gentile L, Salpekar N. The role of chaos in poverty and children’s socioemotional adjustment. Psychol Sci. 2005;16(7):560–5.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Joanna Briggs Institute. Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewers’ Manual: 2017 edition. Australia: The Joanna Briggs Institute; 2017.

  16. 16.

    Arksey H, O'Malley L. Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. Int J Soc Res Methodol. 2005;8(1):19–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Colquhoun HL, Levac D, O'Brien KK, Straus S, Tricco AC, Perrier L, et al. Scoping reviews: time for clarity in definition, methods, and reporting. J Clin Epidemiol. 2014;67(12):1291–4.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Levac D, Colquhoun H, O'Brien KK. Scoping studies: advancing the methodology. Implement Sci. 2010;5(1):69.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Peters MD, Godfrey CM, Khalil H, McInerney P, Parker D, Soares CB. Guidance for conducting systematic scoping reviews. Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2015;13(3):141–6.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Tricco AC, Lillie E, Zarin W, O'Brien KK, Colquhoun H, Levac D, et al. PRISMA extension for scoping reviews (PRISMA-ScR): checklist and explanation. Ann Intern Med. 2018;169(7):467–73.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Larsen K. Organized chaos: daily routines as a potential mechanism linking household chaos and child behavior problems; 2019.

    Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Matheny AP, Wachs TD, Ludwig JL, Phillips K. Bringing order out of chaos: psychometric characteristics of the confusion, hubbub, and order scale. J Appl Dev Psychol. 1995;16(3):429–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Petrill SA, Pike A, Price T, Plomin R. Chaos in the home and socioeconomic status are associated with cognitive development in early childhood: environmental mediators identified in a genetic design. Intelligence. 2004;32(5):445–60.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Asbury K, Dunn JF, Plomin R. Birthweight-discordance and differences in early parenting relate to monozygotic twin differences in behaviour problems and academic achievement at age 7. Dev Sci. 2006;9(2):F22–31.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Berry D, Blair C, Willoughby M, Garrett-Peters P, Vernon-Feagans L, Mills-Koonce WR. Household chaos and children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development in early childhood: does childcare play a buffering role? Early Child Res Q. 2016;34:115–27.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Garrett-Peters PT, Mokrova I, Vernon-Feagans L, Willoughby M, Pan Y. The role of household chaos in understanding relations between early poverty and children’s academic achievement. Early Child Res Q. 2016;37:16–25.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Hanscombe KB, Haworth CM, Davis OS, Jaffee SR, Plomin R. Chaotic homes and school achievement: a twin study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2011;52(11):1212–20.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Hur E, Buettner CK, Jeon L. Parental depressive symptoms and children’s school-readiness: the indirect effect of household chaos. J Child Fam Stud. 2015;24(11):3462–73.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Pike A, Iervolino AC, Eley TC, Price TS, Plomin R. Environmental risk and young children’s cognitive and behavioral development. Int J Behav Dev. 2006;30(1):55–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Shamama-tus-Sabah S, Gilani N. Household chaos and its association with maternal education, family system, and children’s academic achievement in Pakistani culture. Pak J Psychol Res. 2010;25(1):19–30.

    Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Shamama-tus-Sabah S, Gilani N. Household chaos, attention and school problems in primary school children. J Behav Sci. 2011;21(1):68.

    Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Shamama-tus-Sabah S, Gilani N, Wachs TD. Relation of home chaos to cognitive performance and behavioral adjustment of Pakistani primary school children. Int J Behav Dev. 2011;35(6):507–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Shamama-tus-Sabah S, Gillani N. Conduct problems, social skills, study skills, and home chaos in school children: a correlational study. Pak J Psychol Res. 2011;26(2):201.

    Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Taylor J, Ennis CR, Hart SA, Mikolajewski AJ, Schatschneider C. Home environmental and behavioral risk indices for reading achievement. Learn Individ Differ. 2017;57:9–21.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Taylor J, Hart SA. A chaotic home environment accounts for the association between respect for rules disposition and reading comprehension: a twin study. Learn Individ Differ. 2014;35:70–7.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Yarboi J, Compas BE, Brody GH, White D, Rees Patterson J, Ziara K, et al. Association of social-environmental factors with cognitive function in children with sickle cell disease. Child Neuropsychol. 2017;23(3):343–60.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Asbury K, Dunn JF, Pike A, Plomin R. Nonshared environmental influences on individual differences in early behavioral development: a monozygotic twin differences study. Child Dev. 2003;74(3):933–43.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Bobbitt KC, Gershoff ET. Chaotic experiences and low-income children’s social-emotional development. Child Youth Serv Rev. 2016;70:19–29.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Bridgett DJ, Burt NM, Laake LM, Oddi KB. Maternal self-regulation, relationship adjustment, and home chaos: contributions to infant negative emotionality. Infant Behav Dev. 2013;36(4):534–47.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Brieant A, Holmes CJ, Deater-Deckard K, King-Casas B, Kim-Spoon J. Household chaos as a context for intergenerational transmission of executive functioning. J Adolesc. 2017;58:40–8.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Brown DD, Weatherholt TN, Burns BM. Understanding parent reports of children’s attention behaviors: role of children’s attention skills, temperament, and home environment. J Early Child Infant Psychol. 2010;6:41–58.

    Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Brown ED, Low CM. Chaotic living conditions and sleep problems associated with children’s responses to academic challenge. J Fam Psychol. 2008;22(6):920.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Calam R, Jones S, Sanders MR, Dempsey R, Sadhnani V. Parenting and the emotional and behavioural adjustment of young children in families with a parent with bipolar disorder. Behav Cogn Psychother. 2012;40(4):425–37.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Chatterjee A, Gillman MW, Wong MD. Chaos, hubbub, and order scale and health risk behaviors in adolescents in Los Angeles. J Pediatr. 2015;167(6):1415–21.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Chen N, Deater-Deckard K, Bell MA. The role of temperament by family environment interactions in child maladjustment. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2014;42(8):1251–62.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Farbiash T, Berger A, Atzaba-Poria N, Auerbach J. Prediction of preschool aggression from DRD4 risk, parental ADHD symptoms, and home chaos. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2014;42(3):489–99.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Flouri E, Midouhas E, Ruddy A, Moulton V. The role of socio-economic disadvantage in the development of comorbid emotional and conduct problems in children with ADHD. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2017;v26:1–10.

  48. 48.

    Flouri E, Tsivrikos D, Akhtar R, Midouhas E. Neighbourhood, school and family determinants of children’s aspirations in primary school. J Vocat Behav. 2015;87:71–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Fontaine NMG, McCrory EJP, Boivin M, Moffitt TE, Viding E. Predictors and outcomes of joint trajectories of callous-unemotional traits and conduct problems in childhood. J Abnorm Psychol. 2011;120(3):730–42.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Fuller-Rowell TE, Evans GW, Paul E, Curtis DS. The role of poverty and chaos in the development of task persistence among adolescents. J Res Adolesc. 2015;25(4):606–13.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Gould KL, Coventry WL, Olson RK, Byrne B. Gene-environment interactions in ADHD: the roles of SES and chaos. J Abnorm Child Psychol. 2017;v46:1–13.

  52. 52.

    Gregory AM, Eley TC, O'Connor TG, Rijsdijk FV, Plomin R. Family influences on the association between sleep problems and anxiety in a large sample of pre-school aged twins. Pers Individ Differ. 2005;39(8):1337–48.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Gunzenhauser C, Saalbach H, von Suchodoletz A. Boys have not caught up, family influences still continue: influences on executive functioning and behavioral self-regulation in elementary students in Germany. PsyCh J. 2017;6(3):205–18.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Hannigan LJ, McAdams TA, Eley TC. Developmental change in the association between adolescent depressive symptoms and the home environment: results from a longitudinal, genetically informative investigation. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2017;58(7):787–97.

  55. 55.

    Hardaway CR, Wilson MN, Shaw DS, Dishion TJ. Family functioning and externalizing behaviour among low-income children: self-regulation as a mediator. Infant Child Dev. 2012;21(1):67–84.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Human LJ, Dirks MA, DeLongis A, Chen E. Congruence and incongruence in adolescents’ and parents’ perceptions of the family: using response surface analysis to examine links with adolescents’ psychological adjustment. J Youth Adolesc. 2016;45(10):2022–35.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    Jaffee SR, Hanscombe KB, Haworth CM, Davis OS, Plomin R. Chaotic homes and children’s disruptive behavior: a longitudinal cross-lagged twin study. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(6):643–50.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Kahn RE, Deater-Deckard K, King-Casas B, Kim-Spoon J. Intergenerational similarity in callous-unemotional traits: contributions of hostile parenting and household chaos during adolescence. Psychiatry Res. 2016;246:815–20.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Kim-Spoon J, Maciejewski D, Lee J, Deater-Deckard K, King-Casas B. Longitudinal associations among family environment, neural cognitive control, and social competence among adolescents. Dev Cogn Neurosci. 2017;26:69–76.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Laurent HK, Neiderhiser JM, Natsuaki MN, Shaw DS, Fisher PA, Reiss D, et al. Stress system development from age 4.5 to 6: family environment predictors and adjustment implications of HPA activity stability versus change. Dev Psychobiol. 2014;56(3):340–54.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Lemery-Chalfant K, Kao K, Swann G, Goldsmith H. Childhood temperament: passive gene-environment correlation, gene-environment interaction, and the hidden importance of the family environment. Dev Psychopathol. 2013;25(1):51–63.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Midouhas E, Yogaratnam A, Flouri E, Charman T. Psychopathology trajectories of children with autism spectrum disorder: the role of family poverty and parenting. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2013;52(10):1057–65.e1.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Miller AL, Song J-H, Sturza J, Lumeng JC, Rosenblum K, Kaciroti N, et al. Child cortisol moderates the association between family routines and emotion regulation in low-income children. Dev Psychobiol. 2017;59(1):99–110.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Mills-Koonce W, Willoughby MT, Garrett-Peters P, Wagner N, Vernon-Feagans L. The interplay among socioeconomic status, household chaos, and parenting in the prediction of child conduct problems and callous-unemotional behaviors. Dev Psychopathol. 2016;28(3):757–71.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Oliver BR, Pike A, Plomin R. Nonshared environmental influences on teacher-reported behaviour problems: monozygotic twin differences in perceptions of the classroom. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2008;49(6):646–53.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Panico L, Becares L, Webb EA. Exploring household dynamics: the reciprocal effects of parent and child characteristics. Longitudinal Life Course Stud. 2014;5(1):42–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Raver C, Blair C, Garrett-Peters P. Poverty, household chaos, and interparental aggression predict children’s ability to recognize and modulate negative emotions. Dev Psychopathol. 2015;27(3):695–708.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Shamama-tus-Sabah S, Gilani N, Kamal A, Batool S. Chaotic home conditions and children’s adjustment: study of gender differences. Pak J Psychol Res. 2012;27(2):297–313.

    Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Shapero BG, Steinberg L. Emotional reactivity and exposure to household stress in childhood predict psychological problems in adolescence. J Youth Adolesc. 2013;42(10):1573–82.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Shelleby EC, Votruba-Drzal E, Shaw DS, Dishion TJ, Wilson MN, Gardner F. Income and children’s behavioral functioning: a sequential mediation analysis. J Fam Psychol. 2014;28(6):936–46.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Supplee LH, Unikel EB, Shaw DS. Physical environmental adversity and the protective role of maternal monitoring in relation to early child conduct problems. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2007;28(2):166–83.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Tomalski P, Marczuk K, Pisula E, Malinowska A, Kawa R, Niedźwiecka A. Chaotic home environment is associated with reduced infant processing speed under high task demands. Infant Behav Dev. 2017;48:Part B (p124-133).

  73. 73.

    Towe-Goodman NR, Stifter CA, Coccia MA, Cox MJ. Interparental aggression, attention skills, and early childhood behavior problems. Dev Psychopathol. 2011;23(02):563–76.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    Tucker CJ, Sharp EH, Van Gundy KT, Rebellon CJ. Household chaos, relationships with parents and adolescents’ future beliefs. J Fam Stud. 2015;v23:1–14.

  75. 75.

    Valiente C, Lemery-Chalfant K, Reiser M. Pathways to problem behaviors: chaotic homes, parent and child effortful control, and parenting. Soc Dev. 2007;16(2):249–67.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Vernon-Feagans L, Garrett-Peters P, Willoughby M. Predictors of behavioral regulation in kindergarten: household chaos, parenting, and early executive functions. Dev Psychol. 2016;52(3):430–41.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Vilsaint CL, Aiyer SM, Wilson MN, Shaw DS, Dishion TJ. The ecology of early childhood risk: a canonical correlation analysis of children’s adjustment, family, and community context in a high-risk sample. J Prim Prev. 2013;34(4):261–77.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Wang Z, Deater-Deckard K, Petrill SA, Thompson LA. Externalizing problems, attention regulation, and household chaos: a longitudinal behavioral genetic study. Dev Psychopathol. 2012;24(3):755–69.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Wilkinson PO, Trzaskowski M, Haworth CM, Eley TC. The role of gene-environment correlations and interactions in middle childhood depressive symptoms. Dev Psychopathol. 2013;25(1):93–104.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Fisher JH, Brown JL. A prospective, longitudinal examination of the influence of childhood home and school contexts on psychopathic characteristics in adolescence. J Youth Adolesc. 2018;v47:1–19.

  81. 81.

    Lauharatanahirun N, Maciejewski D, Holmes C, Deater-Deckard K, Kim-Spoon J, King-Casas B. Neural correlates of risk processing among adolescents: influences of parental monitoring and household chaos. Child Dev. 2018;89(3):784–96.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  82. 82.

    Tucker CJ, Sharp EH, Van Gundy KT, Rebellon C. Household chaos, hostile parenting, and adolescents’ well-being two years later. J Child Fam Stud. 2018;v27:1–8.

  83. 83.

    Vrijhof CI, van der Voort A, van IJzendoorn MH, Euser S. Stressful family environments and children’s behavioral control: a multimethod test and replication study with twins. J Fam Psychol. 2018;32(1):49.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  84. 84.

    Asbury K, Wachs TD, Plomin R. Environmental moderators of genetic influence on verbal and nonverbal abilities in early childhood. Intelligence. 2005;33(6):643–61.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. 85.

    Vernon-Feagans L, Garrett-Peters P, Willoughby M, Mills-Koonce R. Chaos, poverty, and parenting: predictors of early language development. Early Child Res Q. 2012;27(3):339–51.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  86. 86.

    Atzaba-Poria N, Pike A. Correlates of parental differential treatment: parental and contextual factors during middle childhood. Child Dev. 2008;79(1):217–32.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  87. 87.

    Barnes J, Gardiner J, Sutcliffe A, Melhuish E. The parenting of preschool children by older mothers in the United Kingdom. Eur J Dev Psychol. 2014;11(4):397–419.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. 88.

    Corapci F, Wachs TD. Does parental mood or efficacy mediate the influence of environmental chaos upon parenting behavior? Merrill-Palmer Q. 2002;48(2):182–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  89. 89.

    Deater-Deckard K, Wang Z, Chen N, Bell MA. Maternal executive function, harsh parenting, and child conduct problems. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2012;53(10):1084–91.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  90. 90.

    Fiese BH, Gundersen C, Koester B, Jones B. Family chaos and lack of mealtime planning is associated with food insecurity in low income households. Econ Hum Biol. 2016;21:147–55.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  91. 91.

    Kretschmer T, Pike A. Young children’s sibling relationship quality: distal and proximal correlates. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2009;50(5):581–9.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  92. 92.

    Mokrova I, O'Brien M, Calkins S, Keane S. Parental ADHD symptomology and ineffective parenting: the connecting link of home chaos. Parent Sci Pract. 2010;10(2):119–35.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  93. 93.

    Nelson JA, O'Brien M, Blankson AN, Calkins SD, Keane SP. Family stress and parental responses to children’s negative emotions: tests of the spillover, crossover, and compensatory hypotheses. J Fam Psychol. 2009;23(5):671–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  94. 94.

    Pike A, Atzaba-Poria N, Kretschmer T. Predictors of parenting: family-wide and child-specific factors. Parent Sci Pract. 2016;16(3):147–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  95. 95.

    Pinard CA, Calloway EE, Fricke HE, Yaroch AL. A cross-sectional exploration of food security, depression, and chaos in low-income households with children. J Appl Res Child Informing Policy Child Risk. 2015;6(2):6.

    Google Scholar 

  96. 96.

    Spilsbury JC, Patel SR, Morris N, Ehayaei A, Intille SS. Household chaos and sleep-disturbing behavior of family members: results of a pilot study of African American early adolescents. Sleep Health. 2017;3(2):84–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  97. 97.

    Wang Z, Deater-Deckard K, Bell MA. Household chaos moderates the link between maternal attribution bias and parenting. Parent Sci Pract. 2013;13(4):233–52.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  98. 98.

    Whitesell CJ, Teti DM, Crosby B, Kim B-R. Household chaos, sociodemographic risk, coparenting, and parent-infant relations during infants’ first year. J Fam Psychol. 2015;29(2):211.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  99. 99.

    Wirth A, Reinelt T, Gawrilow C, Schwenck C, Freitag CM, Rauch WA. Examining the relationship between children’s ADHD symptomatology and inadequate parenting: the role of household chaos. J Atten Disord. 2017;v23(5):1087054717692881.

  100. 100.

    Zvara BJ, Mills-Koonce WR, Garrett-Peters P, Wagner NJ, Vernon-Feagans L, Cox M, et al. The mediating role of parenting in the associations between household chaos and children’s representations of family dysfunction. Attach Hum Dev. 2014;16(6):633–55.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  101. 101.

    Martin-Biggers J, Quick V, Zhang M, Jin Y, Byrd-Bredbenner C. Relationships of family conflict, cohesion, and chaos in the home environment on maternal and child food-related behaviours. Matern Child Nutr. 2018;14(2):e12540.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  102. 102.

    MacRae LM, Darlington G, Haines J, Ma DW. Examination of associations between chaos in the home environment, serum cortisol level, and dietary fat intake among parents of preschool-age children. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2017;v42(999):1–4.

  103. 103.

    Madigan S, Wade M, Plamondon A, Jenkins JM. Trajectories of maternal depressive symptoms in the early childhood period and family-wide clustering of risk. J Affect Disord. 2017;215:49–55.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  104. 104.

    Thomas KA, Spieker S. Sleep, depression, and fatigue in late postpartum. MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs. 2016;41(2):104–9.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  105. 105.

    Whitesell CJ, Crosby B, Anders TF, Teti DM. Household chaos and family sleep during infants’ first year. J Fam Psychol. 2018;32(5):622.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  106. 106.

    Blair C, Berry D, Mills-Koonce R, Granger D, Investigators FLP. Cumulative effects of early poverty on cortisol in young children: moderation by autonomic nervous system activity. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2013;38(11):2666–75.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  107. 107.

    Chen E, Cohen S, Miller GE. How low socioeconomic status affects 2-year hormonal trajectories in children. Psychol Sci. 2010;21(1):31–7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  108. 108.

    Lumeng JC, Miller A, Peterson KE, Kaciroti N, Sturza J, Rosenblum K, et al. Diurnal cortisol pattern, eating behaviors and overweight in low-income preschool-aged children. Appetite. 2014;73:65–72.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  109. 109.

    Miller AL, Lumeng CN, Delproposto J, Florek B, Wendorf K, Lumeng JC. Obesity-related hormones in low-income preschool-age children: implications for school readiness. Mind Brain Educ. 2013;7(4):246–55.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  110. 110.

    O'Brien KM, Tronick E, Moore CL. Relationship between hair cortisol and perceived chronic stress in a diverse sample. Stress Health. 2013;29(4):337–44.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  111. 111.

    Schreier HM, Roy LB, Frimer LT, Chen E. Family chaos and adolescent inflammatory profiles: the moderating role of socioeconomic status. Psychosom Med. 2014;76(6):460–7.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  112. 112.

    Doom JR, Cook SH, Sturza J, Kaciroti N, Gearhardt AN, Vazquez DM, et al. Family conflict, chaos, and negative life events predict cortisol activity in low-income children. Dev Psychobiol. 2018;60(4):364–79.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  113. 113.

    Appelhans BM, Fitzpatrick SL, Li H, Cail V, Waring ME, Schneider KL, et al. The home environment and childhood obesity in low-income households: indirect effects via sleep duration and screen time. BMC Public Health. 2014;14:1160.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  114. 114.

    Chae M, Taylor B, Lawrence J, Healey D, Reith D, Gray A, et al. Family CHAOS is associated with glycaemic control in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes mellitus. Acta Diabetol. 2016;53(1):49–55.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  115. 115.

    Dush CM, Schmeer KK, Taylor M. Chaos as a social determinant of child health: reciprocal associations? Soc Sci Med. 2013;95:69–76.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  116. 116.

    Levin L, Kichler JC, Polfuss M. The relationship between hemoglobin A1C in youth with type 1 diabetes and chaos in the family household. Diabetes Educ. 2013;39(5):696–704.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  117. 117.

    Kraft SJ, Ambrose N, Chon H, editors. Temperament and environmental contributions to stuttering severity in children: the role of effortful control. New York: Seminars in speech and language: Thieme Medical Publishers; 2014.

  118. 118.

    Khatiwada A, Shoaibi A, Neelon B, Emond J, Benjamin-Neelon S. Household chaos during infancy and infant weight status at 12 months. Pediatr Obes. 2018;13:607–13.

  119. 119.

    Asta K, Miller AL, Retzloff L, Rosenblum K, Kaciroti NA, Lumeng JC. Eating in the absence of hunger and weight gain in low-income toddlers. Pediatrics. 2016;137(5):1–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  120. 120.

    Goulding AN, Lumeng JC, Rosenblum KL, Chen YP, Kaciroti N, Miller AL. Maternal feeding goals described by low-income mothers. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015;47(4):331–7.e1.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  121. 121.

    Bartel K, Williamson P, van Maanen A, Cassoff J, Meijer AM, Oort F, et al. Protective and risk factors associated with adolescent sleep: findings from Australia, Canada, and The Netherlands. Sleep Med. 2016;26:97–103.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  122. 122.

    Billows M, Gradisar M, Dohnt H, Johnston A, McCappin S, Hudson J. Family disorganization, sleep hygiene, and adolescent sleep disturbance. J Clin Child Adolesc Psychol. 2009;38(5):745–52.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  123. 123.

    Brown DD, Weatherholt TN, Burns BM. Attention skills and looking to television in children from low income families. J Appl Dev Psychol. 2010;31(4):330–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  124. 124.

    Pesch MH, Wentz EE, Rosenblum KL, Appugliese DP, Miller AL, Lumeng JC. “You’ve got to settle down!”: Mothers’ perceptions of physical activity in their young children. BMC Pediatr. 2015;15:149.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  125. 125.

    Bronfenbrenner U, Morris PA. The bioecological model of human development. Handbook of child psychology; 2006.

    Google Scholar 

  126. 126.

    Evans GW, Wachs TD. Chaos and its influence on children’s development. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2010.

    Google Scholar 

  127. 127.

    Crandall A, Deater-Deckard K, Riley AW. Maternal emotion and cognitive control capacities and parenting: a conceptual framework. Dev Rev. 2015;36:105–26.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  128. 128.

    Blair C, Raver CC. Poverty, stress, and brain development: new directions for prevention and intervention. Acad Pediatr. 2016;16(3):S30–S6.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  129. 129.

    Shonkoff JP, Garner AS, Siegel BS, Dobbins MI, Earls MF, McGuinn L, et al. The lifelong effects of early childhood adversity and toxic stress. Pediatrics. 2012;129(1):e232–e46.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  130. 130.

    Kuras YI, Assaf N, Thoma MV, Gianferante D, Hanlin L, Chen X, et al. Blunted diurnal cortisol activity in healthy adults with childhood adversity. Front Hum Neurosci. 2017;11:574.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  131. 131.

    Heim C, Newport DJ, Heit S, Graham YP, Wilcox M, Bonsall R, et al. Pituitary-adrenal and autonomic responses to stress in women after sexual and physical abuse in childhood. JAMA. 2000;284(5):592–7.

    CAS  PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

  132. 132.

    Evans GW, Kliewer W, Martin J. The role of the physical environment in the health and well-being of children. New directions in health psychology assessment; 1991. p. 127–57.

    Google Scholar 

  133. 133.

    Kildare CA, Middlemiss W. Impact of parents mobile device use on parent-child interaction: a literature review. Comput Hum Behav. 2017;75:579–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  134. 134.

    Emond JA, Tantum LK, Gilbert-Diamond D, Kim SJ, Lansigan RK, Neelon SB. Household chaos and screen media use among preschool-aged children: a cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2018;18(1):1210.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Article  Google Scholar 

  135. 135.

    Fullerton HN Jr. Labor force participation: 75 years of change, 1950-98 and 1998-2025. Monthly Lab Rev. 1999;122:3.

    Google Scholar 

  136. 136.

    Baxter J. Child care participation and maternal employment trends in Australia. Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies; 2013.

  137. 137.

    Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M, Croll J, Perry C. Family meal patterns: associations with sociodemographic characteristics and improved dietary intake among adolescents. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003;103(3):317–22.

    PubMed  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


Not applicable.


This research was supported by grants from the Heart Foundation of New Zealand (salary support), the New Zealand Lotteries Commission (salary support), and the Health Research Council of New Zealand (publication costs; SM). For the remaining authors none were declared.

Author information




SM conceptualised the review, designed the search strategy and data extraction form, extracted the data, summarised and interpreted the data, and drafted the paper. RD extracted the data, provided expert advice on how the data was summarised, and substantively revised the paper. RM substantively revised the paper. The author(s) read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Samantha Marsh.

Ethics declarations

Ethics approval and consent to participate

Not applicable.

Consent for publication

Not applicable.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Marsh, S., Dobson, R. & Maddison, R. The relationship between household chaos and child, parent, and family outcomes: a systematic scoping review. BMC Public Health 20, 513 (2020).

Download citation


  • Household chaos
  • Scoping review
  • Family
  • Child development
  • Adolescence