May's theme here at Nonna and the Boss is Empathy and Kindness. Our parenting book for the month is Dr. Borba's UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World and there will be a wonderful list of picture books and young adult books to review posted over at Stories Matter on May 3rd.
Empathy is essential for our well-being, but it is not an inborn character trait. While caring is the display of our concerns for others, it rests on the foundation of empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Stepping into another person's shoes and seeing the world from their perspective is a quality which can be developed in ourselves and, more relevant for this blog, in our children.
This foundation is laid at birth-- how we love and respond to our babies is critical to their long-term development of empathy. But a 2-year-old's perspective is a good place to start our look at empathy.
Bumps in the Road
Child development is fascinating and it is a great privilege to watch Little Guy's physical and emotional growth, especially with the addition of Noodle who is now 8 weeks old. Little Guy loves her so, so much -- he talks to her, sings to her, checks on her, gives her things -- but he is also learning how to be patient and to wait for MamaDad to respond. Recognizing others' needs is an essential element of empathy and a toddler's ability to wait a bit for his needs to be met is a huge first step towards developing this emotional skill.
But the road to empathy is not without it's bumps. I just happened to be Little Guy's bump in the road on this visit.
Arguing with a 2-year-old
I get to play with Little Guy on my visits as a way to help his Mom - Little Guy is a high energy child. So we go to the park, blow bubbles, chase each other around the living room, paint, eat things we shouldn't - all the fun things grandchildren and grandparents do together.
On this recent visit we were playing with his kinetic sand while his Mom completed a phone appointment when Little Guy stopped to listen to a new sound outside.
"Probably a leaf blower," was my response.
"No. It's a lawn mower."
Not thinking I said, "No. I'm sure it's a leaf blower."
Anyone paying attention knows you will never win an argument with a 2-year-old, especially when you are oblivious to the fact you've started one!
Little Guy hopped up to look out the window. And I continued to play with the kinetic sand - which is way better than play dough!!
An arch of a toddler's eyebrow
So I am playing away with the kinetic sand when Little Guy returns from the window and climbs up next to his Mama and Little Noodle. He tries to ask her something, I try to shush him, and his Mama simply takes a moment to remind him she is on the phone and he will need to wait. And he does. He is soooo patient. He sits quietly, close to two of his favorite people in the world, cooing at Little Noodle. And. Studiously. Ignoring. Me.
"Thank you for waiting so quietly," praised his Mama. "What do you need?"
"What is that noise outside?"
"It's probably a lawn mower."
And Little Guy simply turns his head to look at me with a small, almost imperceptible arch to one toddler eyebrow as if to say,
"So, Nonna. It's a lawn mower."
Fact-checking is developmentally appropriate
I am awed by Little Guy's persistence and ability to go to a reliable source in dealing with me! And his Mama knew immediately that she'd been roped into a disagreement neither of us knew was of so much importance to Little Guy. But it wasn't until I was driving home listening to a bit of NPR's fact-checking of the President's speech to the joint session of Congress that it hit me: I'd been fact-checked by a 2-year-old that day!
Which was totally developmentally appropriate for a 2-year-old.
And in an odd way it was also appropriate to where Little Guy is on the path towards mastering empathy.
Little Guy is no longer an only child and Noodle's arrival gives him the chance to learn about others' needs.
In how he was fact-checking Nonna, Little Guy was unknowingly
All-in-all, being fact-checked by Little Guy made my day. We can laugh about the audacity of my 2-year-old grandson, but I am pleased to be the bump in the road which moved him along the path of empathy,