“Dad, Charlie REALLY needs that baseball bat,” Danny said to his father as his brother cradled a beautiful wooden baseball bat. Danny and Charlie are my twin four-year-old cousins. We were in Cooperstown, NY, the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, for a family trip this past weekend. As you can imagine, the town was filled with baseball fans young and old, and every other shop featured baseball mementos. Charlie is a “sports nut” and can name members of the Boston Red Sox and swings a baseball bat better than most adults do. Charlie fell in love with that wooden baseball bat in the store and cradled the bat in his arms. His twin brother Danny looked on, as though he was building the case to convince Dad to buy the bat for his brother.
Charlie is busy, athletic and expressive in every gesture and comment. Danny is a caretaker and is able to understand the perspective of others. During the ice cream social that the hotel put on, Danny escorted every member of our family to the table and helped us to select toppings for our sundaes. He told me as I mulled over the topping choices, “Julie, I think you will really like the cookie crumbles, they are yummy.”
Typically at ages three and four children are developing an understanding of what they are capable of and they relate to the world from their own point of view. It is difficult for young children to understand what another person is thinking or feeling. That is why it isn’t always effective to say, “How do you think Susie feels when you hit her?” Danny seems to have developed this perspective-taking skill on the early side of his development. He knew that his brother really likes baseball, and that the bat would make Charlie happy.
Danny and Charlie live in Boston, so I have not been able to witness their development first hand. I wondered how Danny has been able to develop this selflessness and empathy. I imagine he has often been given specific praise for his kindness to others. “Danny, that was very nice of you to give that toy to Charlie when he asked for it” (followed by a hug). I imagine also that he has seen his parents and other adults showing kindness to and caring for one another. When adults show children how to do something, it is called modeling. Children learn best when they are shown how to do something and then try it themselves, rather than just being told what to do.
Life skills such as empathy, independence, cooperation, turn-taking and confidence are the foundation that “smarts” are built upon. To navigate successfully through life, we need the life skills and the academic skills.
In the end, Dad did not buy the baseball bat for Charlie that day, because Dad knows that it is also an important lesson to learn that sometimes we have to wait for what we really want. Dad and the boys played tee ball on the lawn on the hotel later, with the same wiffle ball bat that Charlie has always loved. Charlie and Danny took turns, shared the same bat and cheered for one another like their parents have shown and praised them.