(Although Charles and I don't have any children, I have three years of teaching experience in which I encountered hundreds of students and parents, so I am very familiar with the methods of raising children that, overall, is the most successful.)
With only a three-year difference between us, Jon and I were close enough in age to be playmates during our childhood. His favorite toys were G.I. Joe's, and mine were Barbies. We managed to combine the svelte blonde dollies with the miniature soldiers seamlessly.
Our plot-lines usually contained some element of kidnapping or other calamity that befell the Barbies. This then required the G.I. Joe's to first battle each other so good overcame evil, and then those "good guys" would save the Barbie dolls. The fact that I enjoyed playing with soldiers, too, and Jonny didn't mind including my Barbies, was a great benefit to our arrangement.
One day when Jonny was about two and I was five years young, we were setting up the G.I. Joe's for battle. This involved lining up all the good soldiers, the G.I. Joe's, with their proper weapons, and having the bad soldiers, the Cobras, lined up opposite them with their corresponding equipment.
When we played "battle," Jon and I would switch being the good or bad soldier soldier, and we'd have them fight each other one-on-one for a few minutes, with Jonny providing very realistic sound effects the entire time. Then the bad soldier would realize he was defeated, lay down his weapon, and walk away (in our youthful innocence we didn't like to think of anyone dying, so we decided to let the Cobras just quit the fight).
That particular time, before we began the battle, Jonny lightly tapped me on the arm then pointed toward the kitchen. "Cookie," he said.
He was at the stage where he was pointing at everything, and enjoyed using one word sentences. Usually the person Jonny was speaking to could figure out exactly what he wanted. And I knew in that instance that he wanted the leftover cookies that our Baba (which means "Grandma" in Ukrainian) had made the day before.
So as the dutiful sister, I went to the kitchen and asked Baba if we could have some cookies. She insisted I take all that were left, which were only three. (Every sweet she baked was delicious and never lasted long!)
When I returned to the playroom, I placed two napkins on the carpet, one in front of my brother and one in front of me. On his napkin I put two cookies, and on mine one. Jonny's eyes, which noticed everything, traveled back and forth between our napkins.
He immediately took one of his cookies, placed it on the carpet, and with his little hands pressed down until he broke it in half. Jonny then put one-half of that cookie on my napkin.
Jonny pointed at my napkin, then at his. Next he pointed at me, then himself. "Same," he said simply.
A moment later he stuffed that half-cookie into his mouth as he simultaneously did sound effects for cannon fire, and the battle officially began.
But within that moment I knew how profound his actions were. Jonny was too small to speak in sophisticated sentences, but his actions were those of the deepest level of consideration for others. I didn't mind giving him two cookies out of three, but in his mind there was something wrong with us having an unequal portion, and his actions changed that situation until he and I both had "same."
That's become a tradition with Charles and me. Sometimes when we say 'I love you' or give a compliment or encouragement or divide a dessert, the other will point back and state, "Same." And we're reminded of both our shared feelings for each other, as well as Jonny's generous heart.
When I first told Charles this story, he got tears in his eyes, as he often does when I share a story about my brother. Those two haven't had an introduction yet, since I met Charles four years after Jonny transferred from earth into heaven. But I imagine that when they first see each other in heaven, one will say, "I've been really looking forward to meeting you," and the other will point and say, "Same."
But until heaven, there is plenty of sharing that needs to be done on earth. So, everyone, please feel free to copy this Jonny-created method. For we should all be treating others the "same" as we would want to be treated. The next time someone says or does something nice for you, point at them and say, "Same." Then tell them this story so the tradition continues.
Resources for my Readers:
Teaching children compassion is one of the most important lessons for a parent to instill. Below are four articles that will help. Kindly note: the first two are from a Christian perspective, whereas the last two are moral but secular.
1. "Raising Caring Kids" from Focus on the Family
2. "Teaching Children Empathy" by Cornerstones for Parents
3. "Teaching Empathy: Evidence-Based Tips" from Parenting Science
4. "Teaching Children Empathy" from The New York Times