September 18, 2019

What is Perspective-Taking? Empathy and Child Development

Help your child learn to see social situations from multiple points of view and identify with others

Empathy is a crucial component to connecting with others and being an active participant in a well-connected and compassionate society. The ability to step outside your own sense of self to understand what another person is experiencing is a core aspect of engaging with other human beings in a meaningful way, and it powerfully enriches your own life. How can you teach this essential skill to children?

Empathy is a skill that is strengthened through life lessons and guidance. One of the steps to teaching empathy is perspective-taking, which is the act of understanding something from someone else’s point of view. Imagining something from another’s perspective can help a child better understand their motives or intentions and allows children to alter their behavior to avoid hurting or offending other people.

Perspective detective

Social and emotional development is a nuanced area of growth that has a significant impact on many different areas of a child’s life and future. The ability to see situations from multiple points of view is a form of social agility that can strengthen relationships, build confidence, and avoid inconsiderate mishaps.

Children who have difficulty understanding how their actions make others feel often experience obstacles in making or maintaining friendships, which can lead to a decreased sense of self-worth. This makes perspective-taking a valuable skill to learn and refine. Here are some activities and suggestions that can help you help the children in your life learn to consider others:

Teach emotions

All too often, adults just assume an understanding of emotions comes naturally. However, although kids have feelings, they can’t communicate them clearly if they lack the language to express their emotions. Often, children do not yet understand how to interpret their own emotions, let alone the emotions happening in others around them.

Make a concerted effort to teach feelings, in the same way you would colors, numbers, or letters. Be honest about your own feelings in simple terms, point out the emotions being experienced by characters in movies and books, and practice drawing and labeling faces with a range of expressions that denote emotions. Talking about feelings can help kids identify similar emotions in themselves and others.

Real-life experience

Once your child has a basic understanding of feelings, help them begin to see how their behavior affects others. If your child causes another child to feel happy or sad, point that out to them and ask why they think the other child reacted in the way they did.

Also, ask your child how they would feel in a situation being experienced by another. “If he had taken the toy out of your hand while you were playing with it, how would that have made you feel? What would have been a better choice?”

Books and movies serve as a great conversational starting point to have your child guess how a certain character feels and why.

Conflict resolution

Once your child has the language and experience to discern how their behavior affects others, encourage them to resolve conflict by asking them to stop and try to see the situation from the perspective of each participant.

If the issue at hand is that each child wants to play with the same toy, how will each of them feel if they don’t get their way? Help your child understand that their desires aren’t more important than those of others and ask how they could compromise. A fair solution may involve sharing, taking turns, or deciding to move onto another activity.

Being able to relate to others, make people feel valued and comfortable, and influence people positively are all essential facets of creating connections with others and experiencing relationships in an authentic way. Teach the children in your life skills that will help them learn perspective-taking and build the foundation for a meaningful future.

Lumiere Children’s Therapy is a full-service, multidisciplinary pediatric therapy practice located in Chicago that serves the developmental needs of children from birth to 18 years of age. Learn more about how our team of clinicians works to improve the lives of children and their families.

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