Why Some Children Can’t Empty the Dishwasher…… and what to do about it!

Girl distracted by phoneWhen I say to people that I am writing a blog about ‘Why some children can’t empty the dishwasher……’, a knowing smile comes to their face. This type of pattern is on the increase with many children and their resistance is escalating. I’d like to share some thoughts on why this is happening and how we can make life easier. The same applies to all sorts of requests: tidy their room, come off their screens, start their homework, go to bed, relax with friends or family, sit down for supper - general co-operation.

Trying to get a child to ‘empty the dishwasher….’ can be absolutely exhausting for adults. It can become a daily battle. The quickest way to stop the cycle and reduce your stress immediately is to cease the battle. This isn’t letting your child get away with not ‘emptying the dishwasher…’. It’s putting things on pause until they can easily and willingly respond to requests. Lessening demands, sometimes to none apart from staying safe and not hurting others, increases co-operation. Neuroscientists back up this approach, by explaining that calm, kind words, encouragement, fun and enjoyment help children’s brains to mature and work more effectively. Then children can calmly co-operate. Remember the smile that willed your toddler to take a few more steps – use that smile!

A child not ‘emptying the dishwasher……..’ is usually sending an important message to adults, who see their request as a quick and easy task. Their resistance is not rebellion but showing us their feelings, which need immediate support. Not complying indicates they are feeling out of sorts or distressed – or they would carry out the task.

For many children, even simple requests re-stimulate the feeling that they get, for example, when they have been asked to do work in school that they can’t manage successfully. This has left them with an underlying feeling of failure. Other feelings can stem from bullying, screen stress, anxiety, past trauma and lack of self-worth.

Children don’t see being obedient as being loving – they see behaving in an honest way as being loving. They want to express ‘Right now, I am not feeling OK’.

When they don’t ‘empty the dishwasher….’, it looks like they are avoiding the task. But their escape is usually to do something that brings them relief – screens, Lego, books. They also want to avoid a meltdown, as they know that this upsets you. They experience the request (even ones linked to treats) as the reason why they don’t feel OK or the cause of their distress, when actually it’s just a trigger, surfacing whatever insecurities or fears are already there. A resultant meltdown, swearing, rudeness or wanting to hit out occur when they just don’t know what to do to feel OK again. Some children may hyperventilate or vomit.

We label ”not managing a task” in a variety of ways, from not co-operating to Oppositional Defiance. But it’s not a sign of bad character, laziness or lack of ability. There always is an innate physiological and neurological root cause. It’s better to consider why they are struggling in any aspect of life, so the problem can be resolved. We can notice their feelings, their overload and their angst. 

We can’t see inside brains to check for common neurological problems, like vision or processing language. These show up in children’s behaviours or words. I often notice neurological difficulties in handwriting because the root causes of why a child can’t manage handwriting haven’t been resolved:

Jay, aged 11, initial assessment

Handwriting in Chaos

Children with neurological stress can’t fully co-operate or learn, so I had to find out how to descramble children’s brains with rest, patience, kindness and fun activities. Once the child had more energy and motivation, I could connect their brain neurons, a tiny step at a time, for the task in hand. Managing handwriting showed less neurological stress and went hand-in-hand with doing other tasks, feeling OK and being co-operative:

Jay's handwriting 10 months later

Connected handwriting

The brain should have no stigma. It has immense capacity for healing and growth at any age. Lack of co-operation, not managing in school, anxiety, depression and all aspects of mental health issues carry an un-necessary stigma. When a child has asthma, huge effort is put into helping them breathe more easily. If diabetes runs in the family, advice is readily available for everyone. We expect a dentist to find the root cause of toothache. Access to the information and support necessary for brains needs to be as stigma-free as finding a dentist.

When children ‘don’t empty the dishwasher, do their homework…’ it looks like an emotional response but usually their health is a slight or major factor. The brain and the body are made up of what we are putting into them – food and drinks. Naturopaths, functional medicine and lots of complementary therapies1 know how to improve brain function.

Also, what may to appear to be emotional is often due to a Fight, Flight or Freeze reaction. This is neurological, not naughtiness. There are neural-developmental programmes that can mature, for example, the Moro reflex2 Fight / Flight / Freeze responses in the brain. These behaviours always need support rather than  disapproval or punishment. 

As well as looking at what’s going on inside a child, the external environment plays a factor. Children can be soaking up stress from those around them at home or in school. It’s important to ‘Put on our own oxygen masks first’, to set aside time to focus on our own health and wellbeing, to fully care of ourselves. When we feel well, we enjoy life more and this enables us to be understanding, comforting, supportive and  compassionate with our children.

Some things that children can’t manage are far more complex, like eating or going to school. But the same strategies work. With anorexia, a hospital regime may be necessary to keep a child alive but then the root causes of why they stopped eating need attention. Schools focus on getting a child to meet school expectations. But we need to resolve the reasons for their refusal, especially overt signs like dyslexia, dyspraxia or autism. Children will go to school when it is manageable and enjoyable.

This generation of children need to be fitter to cope with life and their behaviours are often a sign to focus on this. Looking at the underlying reasons of why a child can’t carry out a task may seem daunting, if it’s not a familiar approach. But working on the health and neuroplasticity of the brain is becoming more mainstream. As life begins to get easier for our children, this lessens our stress. The health knowledge that we acquire enhances our own wellbeing. This helps our patience and gives us renewed energy to carry on as the responsible adult, without needing the child to feel OK first, for us to feel OK. We can help our children progress in small stages, just as when a toddler takes their first steps. Use that smile!

Well and happy parents and children can discuss, negotiate, plan and execute life with ease. Then families can experience kindness, co-operation, creativity, pleasure, fun and joy.


2see information about the Moro reflex and a neuro-developmental programme.

Girls playing



For more information do come to my talk at the Natural Health Event in Hertford on Sunday February 25thI will be on my stand all day to chat to people and sell ‘The Handbook for 21st Century Mums and Dads, More happiness - less stress’, explaining my 6 Steps – Understanding, Nurturing, Loving, Communicating, Resolving, Playing, which can be applied to any age. Signed copies will be available for £10 at the event (RRP £12.99).

The Facebook page for the event is: https://www.facebook.com/events/1874329732859019/ 

If you want support for yourself or the family, please see the information under Contact: 6 Step Consultation - I work as a health and wellbeing PA for adults, children and families. I can do 1-1 or phone consultations.


Supporting parents to help their kids thrive in our world today

Supporting parents to help their kids thrive in our world today

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