My daughter, who is four this month, enjoys setting the table. I don't even have to ask—while I'm making dinner she bursts into the kitchen and announces that she will put the plates out. Setting the table may not sound like much responsibility, but it makes her a contributing member of the family and prepares her for more responsibility in the future.
Responsibility is defined as knowing and doing what is expected of us. It comes from two Latin words, responsum—an answer or reply—and spondere—which means to promise. Taken together, the concept translates to a promised response. When you consider the many aspects of our daily lives, we all shoulder a great deal of responsibility, and as we take on more roles, the level of responsibility increases. As employees, we have specific job duties as well as the overall responsibility of making our employer or company successful. Employers have the responsibility of paying their employees honestly, treating them fairly, and providing a safe work place. As citizens, we have the responsibility of honoring our country and its laws. We exercise this responsibility by participating in our government by voting and serving on juries when called.
As parents, one of our greatest responsibilities is to train, protect, and provide for our children. Character training is an element of parenting that makes life easier for us and our children in the short term, but also provides benefi ts our children will draw on for the rest of their lives. Ask any employer, scholarship committee, or loan officer—the candidate that has proven him or herself the most responsible will be the hands-down favorite every time.
We associate bald eagles with patriotism, but the majestic birds also symbolize responsibility. Bald eagles mate for life and devote much of their time and energy to being responsible parents. They build their nests in large trees, often near lakes and rivers, and use the same nest year after year. Constructed of twigs and branches, the structures are usually about five feet in diameter, but can be as large as nine feet and weigh up to two tons. After the eggs are laid, both parents share in the duty of keeping them warm during the 35-day incubation period. Once the chicks hatch, the male gathers most of the food for the family, while the female is responsible for tending to the young birds. When the eaglets are 10-12 weeks old, the parents start teaching them to fl y. They will remain around the area of the nest for another four or fi ve weeks while they learn to hunt and fend for themselves. To learn more about eagles, check out the eagle cam from the Washington Wildlife Department.
One of the best ways to encourage positive character traits in children is by praising them when they display those traits. Since responsibility is knowing and doing what is expected, every time a child does the right thing it is an opportunity to praise them. Thank your child when they take responsibility by putting away their toys or doing their homework. Often we expect a lot of even the youngest children— offering praise and recognition for putting on shoes without help or for turning off a light can mean the world to someone who has to use a stool to reach the switch.
A good story to illustrate responsibility is Aesop's tale of the ant and the grasshopper. The ant worked responsibly through the summer gathering food for the winter while the grasshopper played and frolicked. When the cold weather arrived, the ant had plenty of food while the grasshopper starved. This story was the basis of the movie, A Bug's Life. Watching it together and talking about the responsibility issues presented provides another opportunity to discuss character traits with your children.
To illustrate responsibility and how everyone's contribution is important, plan for your family to make a salad together. Select your family's favorite vegetables and let each person know they are responsible for a particular item. Young children can tear lettuce while older children can slice tomatoes or grate cheese. As each item is prepared, put it into the bowl, then toss the salad together. While serving the salad, talk about how each person's contribution made the salad more interesting—each person following through on their responsibility created a delicious dish.
Take the time to talk about responsibility with your children. We are all given a multitude of opportunities to be responsible every day. When you talk about what your expectations are for them, also give them the opportunity to tell you about the expectations they have. Then challenge yourselves this month to catch family members being responsible and praise them for it. Everyone enjoys hearing that they've done the right thing.
A few children's books that focus on responsibility include:
- I Am Responsible by Sarah Schutte—a nonfiction book for young readers discussing daily activities.
- Arthur's Computer Disaster by Marc Brown—featuring characters from the animated series, this book explores what happens when Arthur uses his mother's computer.
- The Berenstain Bears and the Blame Game by Stan and Jan Berenstain—focuses on the importance of admitting when you've done
- something wrong.
- All Keyed Up by Matt Christopher (part of the Soccer Cats series)—this book for middle readers discusses a number of responsibility issues including caring for pets and helping friends. Great for soccer fans.
I Will Statements
- I will keep my promises. When we keep our word, others learn we are dependable and trustworthy.
- I will not make excuses.
- I will do all my work to the best of my ability.
- I will make things right when I do wrong.
- I will know my duty and do my duty.