Why Should We Teach Kids About Perspective Taking?

Being able to take someone else’s perspective is a precursor to empathy. Before we can really understand and empathize with another, we must first be able to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view. What does that mean? Read on.

By Momentous Institute | Jun 08, 2015
Why Teach Perspective Taking

Being able to take someone else’s perspective is a precursor to empathy. Before we can really understand and empathize with another, we must first be able to step into their shoes and see the world from their point of view.
 
As with all of these social emotional skills, it is best to start young. The earlier we can build in the idea of thinking about others, the more natural it becomes as children grow into adolescents and adults.
 
Here’s what perspective taking means.
 
Imagine that there is a conflict on the playground. (Not hard to imagine, right? They happen all the time.) Carlos and his buddies are playing soccer, but after a few minutes, they move on to checking out some bugs that they saw. The soccer ball is just sitting there, and no one is playing with it. So John runs up and starts kicking it around. Carlos gets really upset. “That’s our ball! We were playing with it!” he screams. John rebuts, “No one was playing with it. It was just sitting there!”
 
This is a pretty basic conflict – the kind that arises throughout every day with kids. It’s also the kind of conflict that can escalate quickly. To resolve the issue, Carlos and John have to practice perspective taking.
 
For Carlos, he needs to think about the situation from John’s perspective. John saw a soccer ball sitting on the grass. He noticed that for several minutes, no one was playing with it. He figured that he could use it, because it was just sitting there.
 
For John, he needs to think about why this made Carlos so upset. From Carlos’ perspective, his friends were just taking a temporary break to check out the bugs. They weren’t actually done playing soccer. They were going to finish their game any time now.
 
Once both of them can see how their actions affected the other, they can reach a peaceful conclusion. Carlos can invite John to play soccer with his buddies, or John can ask, “Are you done with this?” before taking the ball.
 
Perspective taking is important in these tiny conflicts and much, much more important in the bigger issues of life. We need perspective taking to navigate all inter-personal relationships – friendships, romantic relationships, boss/employee relationships, student/teacher, parent/child and so many more.
 
Start small when introducing this concept to kids. Pick a person, someone you know, or someone from a story or the news. Ask your child what this person might be thinking during a specific situation. For example, if there’s a picture of an athlete making the game-winning shot on the cover of your newspaper, ask your child how that player might be feeling in that moment. How did he feel right before the shot? How did he feel right after?
 
We’ll share some perspective taking strategies here on the blog. But the easiest way is to practice building it into your vocabulary. Just introduce the idea here and there as it makes sense. How did this person feel? How do you think she felt when…? How did you know she was upset? Continue to explore and identify feelings and perspectives and soon it will feel totally natural.