Orthodoxy Today
Smart Parenting XXII. Witnessing Loyalty, Dedication and Dependability

Beloved, it is a loyal thing you do when you render any service to the brethren, especially to strangers, who have testified to your love before the church. (3 John 1: 5-6)

Dedication, loyalty and dependability are important values to impart to children. Our Lord, Himself, speaking through the angel, told the people of Laodicea: "So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth." (Rev 3:16). The inhabitants of Laodicea lacked fervent commitment. Our Lord counsels them to be "zealous." (Rev 3: 19). Not only are dedication, loyalty and dependability spiritual virtues but they are regarded as essential in social and occupational functioning in everyday life as well.

For example, a well known youth program stated goal of, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), is to put youth "on a path toward a more conscientious, responsible, and productive society." i It should be noted that the first two Scouting laws are directly related to this goal as well as to the topic of this Parenting essay: dedication, loyalty and dependability:

  • A Scout is Trustworthy. A Scout tells the truth. He is honest, and he keeps his promises. People can depend on him.
  • A Scout is Loyal. A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and nation.ii

Modeling: Children Learn by Watching.

Children are especially susceptible to being influenced by modeling (also known as observational learning) although the effects of modeling occur at all ages. Psychological research has found substantial support for the influence of modeling in children's learning and resultant performance (Bandura, 1977, 1986) The work of Gerald Patterson (Patterson, DeBarsyshe & Ramsey, 1989) suggests that prosocial as well as deviant social behavior is heavily influenced by observing the social exchanges in the family, as well as the child's temperament, parental discipline style and personality, and the social context of the family.

Bandura points out the four conditions that must be present for effective observational learning to take place:

  • Attention to the model. The amount and quality of attention to characteristics of the model such as: salience (e.g., attractiveness, competence; prestige, similarity to the observer); the affective valence of the model, that is to say whether strong or weak emotions are aroused by it; its functional value and prevalence as well as the attention characteristics of the observer: e.g. their perceptual cognitive capability, cognitive set (thought patterns) and arousal level at the time.
  • Retention processes. The encoding processes of the observer: their level of or capacity for verbal or imagery, cognitive organization, their rehearsal and memory skills.
  • Motor reproduction processes. The observer’s ability to replicate the model’s behavior: through physical capability and component sub-skills and observation of feedback. A child in a wheelchair will not be able to reproduce the behavior of a high-jumper.
  • Motivational processes. The external, internal, hedonistic, social, moral, or religious incentives, or compelling reasons, that motivate the observer to perform (or avoid) the model’s behavior. A little girl can imagine herself being applauded if she sings like her favorite pop star.

A child who observes a parent behaving in a dependable way will be learning dependability themselves. In a previous paper (Morelli, 2005) I noted the importance of behavioral pinpointing. Behavioral pinpointing has to be done both in informing the child what appropriate behaviors are expected and also in reinforcing appropriate behavior and helping the child to cognitively understand the specific appropriate behaviors to be performed:

While appearing easy the next step: "pinpointing" behavior is usually the most difficult for parents to learn. The definition is easy: what is the child doing or saying, when, and where. It is the opposite of general descriptions. For example, describing a toddler's eating as "good" is totally useless. Telling a child "You were bad today" is equally meaningless. Words like "good, bad, hostile, considerate . . . , etc." are all abstract words, meaningless for behavioral management. If a teacher reports back to you that your son was hostile today. What does this mean? It could mean anything from the child using some rude word to a classmate, to picking up a baseball bat and hitting someone.

Merely telling a child (or anyone, for that matter) to be more dedicated, loyal and or dependable is ineffective in communicating and facilitating behavior change. It is to fall into the "abstraction trap." (Morelli, 2005) One aid would be for parents to start out pinpointing their own dependable behavior. If a parent takes a child to an afterschool activity, instead of merely saying for example, "I'll take you to baseball practice this afternoon after school," they may highlight the consistency and dependability of their action when they fulfill it: "Johnny, you know when Mommy says she will be there at 3:30 to pick you up, she means it, you know she is true to her word; when she says something it can be counted on. That is the way all of us should try to be."

Pinpoint Loyalty, Dedication, Dependable Behavior

In aiding the child to learn loyalty, dedication and responsibility the child should be informed in behaviorally pinpointed terms exactly what is expected from him or her. (This is also true for adult interaction as well. Poor spouses, managers etc. ask others to "try harder" or be "more detailed" or "care more;" not realizing these terms are abstractions, having many different possible interpretations, and are quite ineffective in communicating and facilitating behavior change). Certainly, children will have a difficult time knowing what a parent means if abstract instructions are given, for example, if the child is told to simply be "more dedicated." A pinpointed instruction delineating the specific "dedication" behavior should be given. For example: "Johnny, you said you wanted to take up martial arts, Mom and I are willing to buy your uniform and will commit ourselves to take you to all the practices and events. But your responsibility is to be dedicated and responsible to attend all these practices and to do the homework assignments given.” This example actually comes from a family I treated in counseling several years ago. It was so effective the child would often come into the family therapy session in his 'uniform' and demonstrate his martial arts movements for me. I was happy to point out how pleased I was with his dedication and success.

Reinforcing the Pinpointed Behavior

Once again, in a previous paper (MorelIi, 2006b) I pointed out that when rewarding (or punishing) a child one should specify the pinpointed behavior and not use abstract, ambiguous statements. For example, it is so tempting to praise a child by saying "Johnny, you were a good boy today;" or, "Sally, Dad and Mom think you’re wonderful." An effective everyday life example I gave was:

All behaviors - good and bad - will increase if followed by a reward. For example, if a child places their dirty dishes in a sink (a good behavior) and the parent responds with "Mary, I am proud of you for putting dishes in the sink," the behavior is reinforced and will increase.

Notice in this example that the behavior of putting the dishes in the sink is specified. So too, if a child performs a dependable behavior the behavior performed should be specified in the social reinforcement given by the parent. For example: "Johnny, you said you would take out the garbage cans immediately after you came home from school;you did, great dependable work;" "Mary, you told your new friend Sally, you would stick up for her when someone teased her at school; I saw you do this; that is very loyal of you;" "Sammy, at the beginning of this school year you said if we got you a saxophone you would attend and perform all the assigned practices. Mom and dad are proud of you for keeping your word and dedication."

A couple of Personal Examples

When I was growing up I lived in the last house on the edge of a very rural upstate New York village. When I entered high school, I was asked to take care of an elderly neighbor’s horse. This meant getting up in the morning way before school, biking to the farm, then giving the horse fresh water, hay and oats. Many mornings were very cold and it was even more difficult on snowy days. I had to repeat this in the afternoon after school as well. Once a week I had to clean the barn and groom the horse. I knew a commitment was a commitment. I gave my word. I did get a small 'salary,' but even at that time the 'pay' was not close to the value of the chore I committed to.

My last two years in high school were dedicated to my village church. I was 'blessed' to be chief altar boy as well as sacristan. My daily and weekly duties entailed setting out the appropriate vestments for the priest to robe, as well as the required sacred vessels and altar fixings. I was expected to be available for all church services to fill in if one of the other altar boys was missing. (Recall, I lived in a very small, isolated village. The parish church was just down the block). I had a key to the Church building and was expected to make sure it was locked in the evening. When I think back, quite a responsibility for a teenager. After being graduated from high school, I went off to the scholasticate (seminary) for a life of further dedication to Christ and His Church.

Developmental Assets

Certain external and internal assets facilitate interiorizing loyalty, dependability and dedication.iii Among the major external factors are: a strong family support and communication system whereby youngsters are willing and open to listen to parental advice; a caring neighborhood, school and church support system encouraging and valuing youth involvement; good parental, adult and peer models. Internal factors include encouraging achievement, a milieu of pro-social values [and for the Orthodox Christian family, that would mean values that are centered on Christ and His teachings, Morelli, 2009], cognitive and social competency and healthy identity and self-esteem (c.f. Morelli, 2006)].

Jesus’ Teaching: The Parable of the Sower

The importance of steadfastness, the spiritual term that incorporates loyalty, dependability and dedication, symbolized by the seed that takes root and comes to fruition, was told to us by Jesus Himself, in the Parable of the Sower:

A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear (Mt 13: 3-9).

Steadfast loyalty and dedication to a task, especially spiritual tasks, are succinctly summarized by Jesus as recorded by St. Luke (9: 62): "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." In this regard, it should be noted that many commitments that are made involve giving our 'word' to others about something about some service we will perform. In a recent paper (Morelli, 2011) I point out that agape comes under the guise of service to others.

Service to others is one way to begin a life of love. Serving those who are in real need of help is a way of loving them (Morelli, 2009); it is an act of love. Did not Jesus tell us: "But not so with you; rather let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves (Lk 22: 26)."

Love as agape is that it is an attitude, a heartfelt intention and a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other in emulation of the selfless, self-emptying (kenotic) love Christ Himself had for us. Love means having truly beneficent care for the welfare of others in thought word and deed. Steadfastness, that is to say dependability, is acquiring the spiritual virtue of carrying out this love to its completion.

Fortitude, one of the Cardinal Virtues

We remember well St. Paul's reflection on his own life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (2Tm 4:7).” Our holy Spiritual Father St. Barsanuphius (2003) informs us how a life of prayer is so necessary to accomplish this end:

Therefore just as gold is fired in a furnace and held by means of tongs, being beaten into shape by the hammer and thereby being tested and proving acceptable for a royal diadem, so also a person who is supported by the prayers of the saints, which is able to and indeed accomplish a great deal...

Parents and their offspring must add their prayers to the prayers of the whole church so that all members of the domestic church can give witness of loyalty to Christ and of dependability and dedication in all their actions.

Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1Cor 15: 58)


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Bandura, A. (1986).Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Morelli, G. (2005, September 17). Smart Parenting Part 1. http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2006, January 14). Self Esteem: From, Through and Toward Christ. http://www.orthodoxytoday...

Morelli, G. (2006b, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II. http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2009, February 08). Good Marriage XV. Ensnared By Mindless Helping. www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT....

Morelli, G. (2009b, July 15). Smart Parenting XVII: Love and Worship in the Domestic Church- Of God or Idols. http://www.orthodoxytoday...

Patterson, G.R., DeBarsyshe, B.D., & Ramsey, E. (1989). A developmental perspective on antisocial behavior. American Psychologist, 44, 329-335.

Sts. Barsanuphius & John. (2003) Letters from the Desert. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.


i www.scouting.org/Visitor.aspx" title="http://www.scouting.org/Visitor.aspx

ii www.macscouter.com/usscouts/advance/boyscout/bslaw.asp" title="http://www.macscouter.com/usscouts/advance/boyscout/bslaw.asp

iii www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/40_Developmental_Assets_Search_Institute.pdf" title="http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/40_Developmental_Assets_Search_Institute.pdf (pdf).

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: August 1, 2011

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