| Family Connections |

“I Can’t Take My Kids’ Attitude, the Disrespect, and Self-Centeredness”

Parents always need to pair work with positive emotions



I’m a former New Yorker now living out of town. I have no family here other than my husband and our large family, bli ayin hara, including many girls. When my kids were little, people used to tell me how lucky I was that I had so many girls because they’d be such a big help when they got older. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.

I do everything myself — the laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, child care, and so on. Of course, this is what a homemaker does, but I thought that children could and should help out a little.

Five of my girls are already teenagers. But if I ask anyone for help, there’s so much moaning and groaning, and so little help, that I tend to do it all myself rather than deal with the complaints.

For example, if I’m washing dishes and I ask my ten-year-old to please pour some juice for the toddler, she’ll start complaining, “Why? Just because I’m in the kitchen I have to take care of her? Maybe I should never come into the kitchen!”

Of course, all this is exacerbated Yom Tov time when I’m working much harder and the lack of help is that much more glaring.

I can’t take the attitude, the disrespect, and the self-centeredness. I do everything for these children. They have a wonderful life full of outings, vacations, and privileges. They do what they want, when they want. You’d think they might show gratitude by giving back a little, but this seems to be too much to ask.

I’m starting to have resentment toward them, and feel sad and upset a lot of the time. Is there some way I can turn this around? Are there techniques that will get my kids to be willing helpers?



Let’s start with the basics. Most children — and adults, for that matter — would rather play than work. There’s the odd one who’s a “born helper,” a child who takes great pleasure in joining Mom in domestic tasks. This natural helper may enjoy the positive feedback she gets from Mommy and/or she may consider the tasks themselves to be fun. Whatever it is that motivates her, know that she is a rare bird.

To help modify this natural tendency, parents can create a neural connection between “work” (in this case, an uninteresting household task) and positive emotions.

The rule is that “neurons that fire together, wire together.” This means that if the brain is running a circuit called “eating” and at the same time is running a circuit called “arguing,” then eating-arguing can become paired in a single circuit. In the future, eating and stress will be entwined in the wiring of the brain so that stress chemistry will be released even when the person is eating alone with no one to argue with, possibly even leading to digestive issues (which is why we should all endeavor to make mealtimes relaxing).

We can use this principle to intentionally co-wire work and happy feelings.

Asking very small children to help out while playing a game with them (“let’s toss the laundry into the basket!”), singing a song (“It’s time to put the toys away, toys away, toys away…”), giving them praise or even treats, all causes “work” and “pleasure” to wire together.

In order to keep this circuit active forever, parents will always need to pair work with positive emotions. School-age kids and teens will still enjoy praise (“Thank you, honey, that was such a big help!”), but humor, good conversation, and more grown-up versions of “fun” will also have to be added.

Tidying up the kitchen or peeling a mountain of potatoes with a teen can and should be a delightful experience for both parent and child. Tell stories about your childhood that your adolescent has never heard before. Talk about something you know she’s very interested in. Tell her about a funny incident from your day. Listen carefully and empathetically to anything she shares with you. Always lay on the praise for any task that has been performed, no matter how small.

It’s also important to stop showing all signs of suffering around the issue of housework. If it’s so painful to you, who else would want to ever do it? Fake it if necessary, but hum happily while you work.

Finally, stop building a one-way relationship with your kids. You’re teaching them to be narcissistic takers. Make it clear that relationships are always a two-way street in which people care about and help each other.

Withhold the extras as long as and whenever a child displays an incorrect attitude regarding participating in family life — and lay them on lovingly when you see evidence of caring and effort on their part.


Have a question for Mrs. Radcliffe? Send your queries about parenting or personal growth to familyfirst@mishpacha.com


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 789)

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