Ellen Galinsky defines perspective-taking as a social, emotional, and intellectual skill in her book, The Developing Mind. In order to understand someone else’s point of view, you need to be able to analyze the situation, speculate on how the other person is thinking and feeling, remember your existing knowledge about that person, compare them with similar situations, and try to put aside your own emotions and feel and think like another person. So in fact, we are talking about a complex process involving many functions of the brain.
We humans are social beings and we live our lives in social relations. Therefore, taking the perspective of others is a fundamental life skill for healthy relationships and a successful life. Indeed, Ellen Galinsky refers to “taking perspective” as a fundamental life skill that children must acquire in their developmental journey.
Although children may be able to make an undeveloped distinction between their own and not their own from their early childhood, to a small extent, they reach the necessary maturity at the age of 4 on average to fully grasp that someone else has a world of thought and feeling different from their own.
Studies have found that children who learn to take perspective have a clearer idea of what their teachers expect of them, and thus fit better into kindergarten. A child who has more understandable ideas about what is expected of him and who has learned to take a perspective can analyze and adapt to the social, emotional and intellectual issues expected from him throughout his education life. Again, studies have shown that children who can take perspective are less aggressive than children who cannot take someone else’s perspective. When we support children in gaining the ability to see and think about someone else’s perspective, we also support them in building healthy relationships. But if you are wondering how we can teach children the ability to take perspective, you can apply the following suggestions.
How Can We Help Children Develop the Ability to “Take Perspective”?
1. First, apply the suggestions about getting perspective as adults trying to offer support to children.
Children learn best by modelling. Therefore, we, as adults, need to develop ourselves and be a model for children in order to be able to take someone else’s point of view and evaluate the world from their perspective.
2. Teach children to live with others.
Teaching our children to be individuals is as important as supporting their journey to become individuals, as well as teaching them to be part of a social group. Therefore, we should support them in acquiring the necessary skills to be together with other people.
3. Establish a warm and trusting relationship.
A secure relationship is the basis for every child to demonstrate free learning and exploration behaviors. The child who can anchor in a warm and trusting relationship can try to see the world through someone else’s eyes without losing his own center.
4. Make children feel seen and understood.
This title expresses the necessity of your effort as an adult to see the world through the eyes of the child. As you try to see the world through their eyes, as you follow its rhythm, the child will develop their capacity to see the world from another’s perspective. Children who grow up with adults who make an effort to know and understand themselves show more advanced skills in healthy communication in the future. Otherwise, they will have a hard time communicating with other people when they become adults.
5. Talk about their feelings and yours.
We know that children blame themselves for many of the distressing situations that are going on around them. This is largely due to their immaturity in seeing the world through someone else’s eyes. Therefore, it is very valuable to be able to share with them that you, as a human being, can experience difficult times from time to time and your efforts to overcome these feelings. A sincere statement, “Like you, I can have a hard day sometimes. Like you, I need some time. Then I will be better”, the contribution of a child’s emotional development is enormous. Thus, he will see that you, as a human being, can experience difficult emotions, and he will be able to normalize these emotions when he experiences them. In addition, he will have learned by experience and in dialogue with you that the difficult feelings he senses about you are not his fault and that it is perfectly normal for all of us to deal with difficult emotions as human beings.
6. Encourage thinking and talking about the perspective of others during everyday experiences.
Supporting this skill is possible during daily conversations, activities, and dealings where we try to understand another’s feelings and thoughts. Even speculating about a child you see crying in the park and starting a conversation like “why do you think she’s crying” is in itself a way to bolster your child’s skills in seeing the world through someone else’s eyes.
7. Use discipline towards others.
This skill is about thinking and developing awareness of the impact our behavior has on others. Needless to say, it is important that adults offer appropriate role models in this regard. Reflecting on the impact of behavior on another person develops the ability to listen to others and act more thoughtfully.