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Chaos and Instability from Birth to Age Three


Many children, especially those from lower-income families, face considerable instability early in their lives. This may include changes in family structure, irregular family routines, frequent moves, fluctuating daycare arrangements, and noisy, crowded, or generally chaotic environments. Moreover, instability and chaos affect young children’s development both directly and, via their parents’ and other caregivers’ exposure to it, indirectly.

Unstable, chaotic environments make it more difficult for children to acquire self-regulatory skills, including self-control and planning, that help them manage their emotions and behaviors, write Stacey Doan and Gary Evans. And when caregivers themselves confront unpredictable events and unreliable circumstances that strain their own adaptive capacities, their ability to provide sensitive, nurturing care may be compromised.

In this article, Doan and Evans show us how social and physical chaos can influence early child development. They focus not only on micro-level factors in families and their immediate surroundings, but also on macro-level processes such as public policy. For example, social safety net programs that are designed to help families from disadvantaged backgrounds can sometimes inadvertently increase the instability and chaos in children’s lives. The authors suggest how such programs could be redesigned to decrease rather than exacerbate instability. They also review promising interventions such as parenting programs that may help to reduce instability in children’s home lives.


Source: Future of Children (2021). Chaos and Instability From Birth to Age Three.