As parents, we may aim for a life of ease and tranquillity for our children, but the reality is that
there will always be challenges along the way. The secret is to empower young people so they can navigate their way through challenges while interacting positively, responding appropriately, and building resilience as each difficulty arises. To do this, various skills are required, including the ability to consider our own perspective as well as the perspective of others.
What is Perspective-Taking?
Perspective-taking skills help to develop social awareness as they assist us in thinking critically about social situations and relationships. Essentially, these skills give us the capacity to look beyond our own point of view and consider how someone else may think or feel.
Why is Perspective-Taking Important?
When children lack good perspective-taking skills, they may appear inconsiderate or rude and are often viewed as children with behavioural problems. They often make decisions according to their wants and needs, disregarding what is best for anyone else. This can make it difficult for them to maintain friendships or be a team member.
Young children are by nature egocentric and must first see the world from their own point of view to develop self-awareness. However, in line with their cognitive development, specific experiences and activities can help children develop better perspective-taking skills.
Pre-school Perspective-Taking Skills
Children are never too young to learn perspective-taking skills. As parents, we can start by teaching our children about emotions.
• Label your emotions. Model talking about emotions and ways to make yourself feel better.
• Notice the emotions of others. If another child is upset, name the feelings and identify how you know the child is upset. Cues might include identifying the other child’s facial expressions, the sound of their voice, their body language, etc. Talk about why the child would feel that way and ask about ways to help make the child feel better.
• Use story time to discuss the emotions of story characters. Ask questions about the characters: How do you know they are angry? Why does the character feel that way?
Perspective-Taking Skills in Junior School
During the early school years, children begin to connect thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. As time passes, your child will begin to understand how others think and feel by observing how others behave. You can help your child understand and interpret the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of others by engaging in the following activities:
• Notice when others display strong reactions and discuss these with your child. Why might the other person be behaving that way? How was he or she feeling in that situation?
• Ask your child to consider the situation witnessed from their perspective. How would you have responded? Would you have behaved like that?
This conversation helps your child identify the emotions, make links to the behaviour, and connect with how the other child felt.
• Similarly, you may use characters in stories to discuss why characters felt or acted in a certain way. Stories with multiple characters may also help your child see differences in perspectives, especially as situations, feelings, and behaviours of individual characters can be interpreted differently.
• Talk to your child about body language and facial expressions to assist with interpreting feelings. Discuss sarcasm and the ‘true meaning’ behind this form of communication.
Middle School Perspective-Taking Skills
During this time, children begin to focus more on developing their friendships. They are beginning to realise that their friends’ perspectives differ, and they are trying to navigate the reasons why they are thinking, feeling, and behaving in a certain way.
The motives at this point become more complex as children see that the reasons for their friends’ choices vary. Open communication with your child is essential to help them navigate these more complex situations.
• Model being fair when dealing with conflicts and openly consider alternative points of view from all involved.
• Ask your child about their friendships. Listen to the difficulties the challenges they encounter in their friendship groups and the dynamics of those relationships.
• Discuss the motives behind certain decisions or behaviours by asking ‘why do you think they made that choice?’ or ‘why do you think that happened?’
• If your child is confused about a decision, discuss the positives and negatives of that decision. This teaches your child to make well-considered choices. Reflect on the idea that choices are different for everyone depending on the individual. Reinforce the idea that it is okay to make a different choice than a friend and discuss the possible impact this can have on others.
• Model and encourage the use of ‘I statements’ “I feel ___________ when you ___________, could you please _____________?”
to ensure their feelings are being communicated effectively. This assists with understanding and helps others consider how another is feeling.
High School Perspective-Taking Skills
As relationships become more complex during this developmental stage, young people begin to realise that a range of factors, including family values, cultural beliefs, their environment, etc. influence people’s decision-making and behaviours. During this stage, our discussions on perspective-taking need to widen so that young people can learn to make cause-and-effect connections.
- Talk openly about differences among people and the possible reasons for their perspectives. These reasons can include their cultural background, family situation, experiences, etc.
- Share stories about people’s and families experiences, including stories of adversities and challenges.
- Avoid generalised statements that are racist, sexist or derogatory and instead foster tolerance and curiosity to understand differences.
- Discuss historical examples where a different perspective or change in attitude and thinking was required to move forward as a society. These examples may come from a unit of study in History or Literature at school.
- Providing some social scripts may be helpful: “I can see what you mean”, “I understand where you are coming from”, “I hear what you are saying”, “I respectfully disagree because…”
As a community, our hope for children is to develop mutually respectful relationships, so that we can
work together, collaborate, communicate and problem solve effectively. This can only occur if we are mindful of the connections between our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and are considerate of the differing perspectives of others.