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Perspective Taking – 5 Effective Ways to Teach Children

| Two levels of perception | Benefits of perspective-taking | How to help kids develop perspective-taking skills |

What is perspective taking

Perspective-taking is the practice of trying to infer and understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, and viewpoint without directly experiencing it​1​.

Perspective-taking for kids is not only important for children, but also for parents and other adults.

Children start developing the ability to take on the feelings and perspectives of others between three to seven years of age​2,3​.

There are three types of perspective-taking.

Perceptual perspective-taking (or visual perspective taking) is the inference a child makes about how another person sees, hears, or perceives something from their location.

Conceptual perspective-taking, also called cognitive perspective taking, is the ability to recognize different thoughts and understand another person’s point of view, desire, attitude, or plan​4​.

Affective perspective-taking, or social sensitivity, is the ability to identify and understand the feelings of others​5​.

The ability to draw a correct inference appears to develop earlier than the ability to justify it​6​.

girl makes a frame shape using fingers what is perspective taking in child development

Two levels of perception

There are two levels of perception that develop at different times​7​.

Level 1 – visual perception

Children as young as preschoolers understand how different visual perceptions work.

They know that the only way to see an object is to look in its direction without your vision being blocked.

Additionally, they understand that they may see different objects from others and vice versa.

Level 2 – knowledge

As children grow, they begin to understand that the process of perspective-taking is an active, interpretative, and constructive activity.

People may interpret an ambiguous event differently depending on their past personal experiences, biases, or expectations.

kids look into a camera hole how to explain perspective to a child

Why is perspective taking important

Being able to understand the perspective of others provides the following benefits.

Social interactions

Understanding others’ perspectives is an important social skill that children need in order to make and sustain social relationships​8​.

Using affective perspective-taking, children can conceptually understand the roles friendships, authorities, peers, and themselves play​​​9​.

They can decipher other people’s actions and make social inferencing about others’ intentions.

They are also able to interpret other people’s words and predict what they will do next.

When children are less capable of affective perspective taking, they tend to miss subtle social cues in a social situation and cannot interpret the need to regulate their own behavior​10​.

Altruism

Altruistic behaviors such as sharing candies with peers or donating money to a charity have been found to have a significant association with cognitive perspective-taking.

When children can consider other people’s perspectives, they have a better understanding of the need to help others​11​.

Empathy 

Having empathy is feeling the same emotion that another is experiencing, or very close to it. It is feeling together with the other person. Older kids who can recognize other people’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors tend to have more empathy for others than those who don’t​12​.

Interpersonal problem solving

Taking others’ perspectives allows children to adopt more elaborate strategies for resolving interpersonal conflicts​13–15​. It is vital for interpreting issues, problem-solving, and reaching consensus​16​ during social interaction.

Emotional regulation and behavior management

Individuals who are easily angered and remain that way for an extended period of time create significant problems for themselves and those around them​17​.

Aggression and violence have been widely attributed to anger as a precursor​18​.

Perspective-taking facilitates emotion regulation by allowing one to perceive interpersonal provocation from other people’s viewpoints that do not lead to hostility or blame. It contributes to a child’s emotional intelligence.

Prevent bias and stereotype

Every individual has a unique perspective. We view each other differently than we view ourselves, and sharing the same environment doesn’t always lead to the same conclusions.

Insisting the perspective we hold is the only one that is appropriate tends to result in social problems and conflicts. Accepting individual differences in viewpoints brings people together instead of pushing them apart​19​. It reduces stereotypic biases​20​.

Creativity

Seeing things from different angles can unlock one’s creativity.

According to research, diverse teams that engage in perspective-taking activities generate more creative ideas than homogeneous teams​21​.

Parenting

Teaching new skills to children is important, but it is also essential to practice them ourselves.

Whenever parents discipline children to change their behavior, they are trying to shift the children’s perspective so that it agrees with theirs. Conflicts and power struggles often result if the children’s viewpoints are ignored​22​.

In order for our children to accept our viewpoint, we need to start seeing things from a child’s perspective first and show that we are taking perspective into consideration.

leaves in different shapes offer different perspective taking for kids

Teaching perspective-taking

Empathic, warm, and responsive parenting

Parenting plays a significant role in the development of perspective-taking capability.

Empathic, warm, and responsive parenting facilitates the theory of mind, which is a form of perspective-taking that involves identifying different mental states to explain and predict others’ behavior. 

Parents with a high level of empathy tend to encourage their children to take perspective​23​. These children show more empathy and prosocial behavior​24​.

Modeling

Taking the perspective of another person is an essential skill that parents can teach their children by modeling.

According to research, parents who consider their children’s perspectives and offer mutual respect tend to be more supportive and responsive, which in turn promotes children’s ability to use mutual perspective taking​25​.

Comforted by others

Comforting a child when they are going through difficult times shows them that they are loved and cared for. A child’s perspective taking is associated with the comfort they receive from peers and adults​26​.

Role-playing

Teenagers who role-play can significantly improve their ability to take on different perspectives in social situations. 

In perspective-taking training, adolescents are coached in social skills and act in multiple roles in typical problem situations. These teens are more able to resolve interpersonal conflict successfully and show empathy for others​27​.

Visual feedback

Watching themselves on film is a great way to increase perspective-taking behavior in children. Through videotapes focused on them instead of the other actor, children are able to see things from the other side, allowing them to shift their focuses and attributions​28​.

girl points at others direction

References

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About Pamela Li, MS, MBA

Pamela Li is a bestselling author. She is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Parenting For Brain. Her educational background is in Electrical Engineering (MS, Stanford University) and Business Management (MBA, Harvard University). Learn more

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