My son Jacob is a bit of a neat freak. I mean, for a four year old. Sure, there are Legos strewn across the floor most of the time and his bed has a giant pile of trucks on it. But he likes to clean. What he really likes is the idea of cleaning. He likes the cool tools you can use to clean (vaccum cleaners, sink sprayers) and he likes to hang clean pans up on their hooks in the kitchen.
So this morning he came up to me asking me to put soap in the dishwasher. At first I was a little worried at what I would find, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that he had simply put a glass in the dishwasher. He was ready to turn the dishwasher on and wanted me to help. So we proceeded to finish filling the dishwasher and started it. Then, he asked to help with the hand wash dishes.
Naturally, he dragged a chair into the kitchen so he could be right in the middle of the action. We filled the sink with soapy water (extra bubbles, of course) and dove into the pots and pans.
Like I said, the kid likes to clean. He grabbed a dishcloth and scrubbed with feeling! He was covered in bubbles and smiling, but the dishes weren’t really that clean. He missed the tougher spots. The pans were still pretty greasy. His little four year old hands didn’t quite have the manual dexterity that was necessary to get the job done. What he lacked in skill he made up with in enthusiasm, yet at the end of the exercise, I had to clean where he had missed.
Now, I’m flashing back to a conversation I had with a mom about her 7 year old boy’s brushing habits. When I examined him I could see that his gums were pretty irritated and April told me that he had a lot of plaque on his molar teeth. Mom told me that she has him brush twice a day most days. The I asked her the question:
“Would you let him do the dishes by himself?”
She looked at me like was crazy. “Well, no,” she said.
I explained that he wasn’t quite ready to brush his teeth on his own. I use this analogy with most of the parents in my practice. Brushing teeth isn’t brain surgery, but it does need a certain amount of dexterity and attention to detail to get the job done right. Furthermore, a parent standing over a child looking directly at the surface that they are brushing (using the previously described “loving headlock” technique) is going to remove plaque and debris much better than the child can alone. 99% of the time you’ll find a clean mouth doesn’t get cavities, so it’s important that the job gets done well. When it’s a child, it’s less important who does the job.
I think it’s great that Jacob wants to wash dishes and I’m glad that he does it! It’s just that he’s not ready to do it solo. Some kids are probably conscientious enough to wash the dishes at 7 or 8. Some kids probably shouldn’t be allowed to wash dishes at age 16! The parents definitely know them best and should make the judgement. I think the same goes for brushing teeth. If you’re a parent, you need to ask yourself the question. If they aren’t ready to do the dishes on their own, they aren’t ready to brush their teeth without supervision.
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