Many think responsibility means getting the job done, without considering the welfare of others. Consider the man on the corner selling drugs to feed his family, the mother of two who doesn’t check her child’s homework because she works evenings, and the older gentleman down the street who shovels snow off his front property into the street. That kind of responsibility – the kind that allows you to fulfill your obligations without thinking about whom you hurt in the process – gives our children a skewed perspective of what it means to be dependable.

Although being responsible means fulfilling our obligations, we also need to keep in mind that we have an obligation as citizens to love our fellow man and consider others in all that we do. Teaching this kind of responsibility will not only better your children, but improve our world. One of the most important ways you can do this is by showing responsibility in all you do.

Honoring their word

If they make a promise to you, a relative, or a friend, make sure they follow through. Tell your child that when they agree to carry out a task, others depend on them to do it. Discuss what happens when they make promises only to break them later – they break trust with others and lose friends, they may not be given important jobs in the future, and they disappoint people they care about. After explaining the importance of keeping promises, make sure they do what they say. If your son agrees to shovel a neighbor’s walkway on the weekend, make sure he doesn’t weasel out of it just because he’d rather play with his friends. If your daughter promises that she will attend her younger brother’s piano recital, make sure she does what she promised, even if she wins concert tickets to see her favorite musician later in the week. By holding your children to their promises, you help them choose their words carefully and think about the feelings of others.

Monitor responsibilities

Nothing teaches kids more than experience. Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities in or around the house, such as taking care of a pet or making sure a room is tidy at home. You and your child should work together to assess how he or she is completing the task. Give your child at least two goals for the task, and then check in with your child periodically to see how he or she is performing. If your child’s job is to water the plants in your home, her goals could be to keep the soil wet or to keep the plants green and moist. You could talk to your child every two weeks, observing the plants’ color and moisture, and give her feedback on whether or not she is achieving the goals. Holding children accountable enforces the importance of the task at hand and helps them understand who they affect if they do not fulfill their obligations.

Read books about
responsible adults

Since it is recommended that parents read with their children for at least 30 minutes a day, give them responsible characters to look up to. There are many books you can use to expose children to characters who have a deeper grasp of what it means to be responsible. The picture book Brave Irene by William Steig, for example, depicts a young girl who battles a snowstorm to deliver a dress for her mother. She takes her responsibility seriously. For more books on teaching responsibility, check out the social cataloging Web site Library Thing. You can find a list of books with responsible characters at

Teach your child the true meaning of responsibility – that every one has a job, whether they are employed or not, and that job is to take care of each other.

China Hill is a teacher at KIPP Ascend Charter School on the West Side.