Perspective-taking: Another essential life skill

More than seeing things from a different point of view, help your children learn perspective taking through everyday activities.

How I wish that people could read my mind. Wouldn’t life be simpler if people knew what you wanted and then acted accordingly? How exciting it would be to have a child know how things were going from your point of view and instinctively know when you are sad, frustrated or overwhelmed.

Being able to see things from another’s point of view is sometimes referred to as perspective taking and is an important life skill. Author Ellen Galinsky reminds us that teaching life skills to children can be just as important as teaching school readiness skills. In her book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills that Every Child Needs, she highlights the life skill of perspective taking. As an adult who may influence young children, it is good to pause and think about what perspective taking actually means.

Perspective taking is not an easy skill to master and very young children often don’t understand that others have feelings and experiences different from their own. Perspective taking develops over time and improves as children mature, as it involves multiple parts of the brain, each responsible for a different task.

To see something from someone else’s point of view, you first need to detect how that person is thinking and feeling. You must also summon up the stockpile of knowledge you have about that person. This skill involves some analysis of the current situation and remembering what you have heard about similar situations. You may need to set aside your own feelings about the matter at hand and try to feel and think as someone else does. Because there are so many different thinking tasks involved in trying to take the perspective of someone else, children are better able to process this kind of information as they grow and develop, eventually realizing that two people may experience the same situation in different ways.

How can we begin to teach the process to young children? Happily, your opportunities are many! Perspective taking can be taught through daily interactions and the behavior we model for our youth. Michigan State University Extension suggests several easy ways to assist your children in building their perspective-taking skills:

  • Introduce your child to human situations that are unlike his own. You might discuss that there are people who cannot see and play a game where you take turns using a blindfold. The old children’s game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey is one way to teach about those without sight. You could also sing with your child and have him try to cover his mouth during song to reflect how people who are unable to speak might feel.
  • Problem solve with your child. Children need to learn there is more than one way, or one idea, that can solve a problem or issue. Brainstorm with her and discuss the many ways she might approach a problem. “I see you’re frustrated with your friend who took that toy from you. Can you think of some ways you might be able to solve the problem without hitting him the next time?
  • Use “I” messages to show you recognize your child’s emotions. “I see you are angry because your field trip was cancelled.” When you recognize and name their emotion, they are learning they can trust and rely on you for comfort.
  • Give feelings a name. Use children’s books to assist in teaching the many names of feelings. Some books that are a good place to start include My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss or On Monday When It Rained by Cheryl Kachenmeister.
  • Talk about your own feelings and those of your child. Let your child know if you need some time to yourself. “I think I need a few minutes to sit and think right now.” Children need to know others may have feelings different from their own at any given time.
  • Explore opportunities in your community where you can expose your child to many different people and perspectives.

Looking for more tools and resources to help develop perspective taking? Seek out information from children’s books and activities, as well as other tools for families that can assist in building life skills.

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