This is a question that plagues students from kindergarten to their senior year in high school. For most elementary students, the answers are usually pretty easy — a teacher, policeman or fireman. Although these professions will remain a constant in our society, today’s students will potentially change jobs several times throughout their careers or go into jobs that haven’t even been created yet.
With that fact in mind, parents and educators need to focus on some steadfast concepts in our children’s lives. One such constant we are focusing on in the elementary setting are character traits.
At Maplehurst Elementary we are concentrating on one character trait per month. For the month of September, the trait is responsibility.
I’m sure, if asked, what traits parents would like their children to have now and as adults, a common response would be responsibility. It is a trait that transcends the years as well as has multiple meanings to parents.
Responsibility can mean being dependable so people know they can count on you, keeping one’s word and agreements, meeting one’s commitments, doing something to the best of one’s ability, being accountable for one’s behavior, accepting credit when you do things right and acknowledging mistakes or being a contributing member of one’s family, community and society.
Responsibility is often confused with obedience. Responsibility is not the act of doing what you are told; it is taking ownership of the action. For example, the difference between children or teenagers being told to clean their room and cleaning their room on their own without being told, demonstrates the difference from being obedient to being responsible. One can substitute a variety of “chores” or actions (picking up after yourself, doing the dishes, or taking care of a pet) for the above mentioned scenario; however, it is the development of initiating the action because it “needs to be done” is what defines responsibility.
As parents and teachers, we need to examine our active role with our children in the development of this ever important character trait. We need to foster opportunities and guidance for our students to exhibit success with being responsible, while at the same time not aiding their commitments, completing their tasks and doing too much so that our children do not fail.
On one hand we need to fulfill the nurturing role for our children by loving, caring and supporting them unconditionally, while on the other being firm and setting limits and boundaries, imposing discipline, teaching your children how they should behave, passing on our values and giving guidance. By not meeting their needs immediately and not giving them everything they want, you provide an opportunity for your children to tolerate some frustration, delay gratification, become less impulsive and less self-centered.
So with all this said, what are some things we can do as parents and educators to teach responsibility?
For one, we can be a good role model. Young ones will do what they see more so than what is told to them. If we wish for our children’s room to be clean, then we need to do the same. The “do as I say not as I do” mentality doesn’t work here.
Another idea worthy of investigation is to give choices and opportunities to make decisions. Children will be more likely to abide by actions and become responsible if they have a say or role in the process.
Children need opportunities to display a sense of pride and independence. Using what is called the language of responsibility, is another approach to teaching responsibility. Focus on catching your child doing something good. So many times children will bring home a math assignment or spelling paper with a minus two (-2) out of 15. We as adults will be drawn to the mistakes while missing the chance to praise the +13 the child received. Using comments such as, “Hey, I like the way you picked up your room” or “thanks for helping set the table.” These words can sometimes seem over done at times, but using them with sincerity will be recognized by children immediately.
The road to responsibility is not a short one, for the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. It can only be our hope as parents and teachers of children to one day ask the question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” and get the answer, Responsible.
Local columnist Ken Moore is the principal of Maplehurst Elementary.