How Parents, Educators Can Help Children Perspective Taking

This early learning research may have a benefit beyond just childhood development – it might make you (and your child) look at broccoli in a better light!

Mind in the Making reviewed various studies that examined an essential executive functioning skill that children should learn: Perspective Taking. MITM defines this as “understanding that other people have different likes, dislikes, intentions, thoughts, and feelings than you do.”

To develop actionable tips for parents and educators, MITM reviewed research by Alison Gopnik of the University of California at Berkeley and Betty Repacholi of the University of Washington.

Gopnik and Repacholi created an experiment called Broccoli and Goldfish Crackers, where a experimenter makes it clear to a child that she dislikes the crackers but likes the broccoli. The experimenter then asks the child to “give me what I like.” A 14-month-old will give the adult what the child likes (crackers) but by 18 months, the child will give the adult what the adult likes (broccoli).

Further Research

MITM also notes that “studies have found that children who are aggressive have trouble understanding the intentions of others. Larry Aber of New York University and his colleagues evaluated a curriculum that uses children’s books, discussions, writing exercises, and role-play situations to teach children to understand other people’s intentions. Children who have experienced this curriculum are less likely to jump to conclusions about the behavior of others; they are less aggressive; and their reading scores go up, too!”

MITM’s research-driven tips:

  • Help children feel understood: for example, imitate a sound that an infant is making, repeat back words that a toddler is saying, or help your child find a way to express what he is feeling or thinking. Feeling understood helps children understand others.
  • Help children interpret the viewpoints of others—what they want, what they like, etc. One study found that when parents talked this way about a new baby with the baby’s older sibling, the siblings got along better when they were school aged.
  • View fights as an opportunity to teach children how to deal with conflict constructively. Ask them to suggest ways to resolve the conflict that take the other person’s perspective into consideration. Then have them try out the suggested solution and evaluate how it is working.
  • Talk about feelings (yours and theirs): “You know how you sometimes have a time-out when you are upset? I need some time to myself and then I will be better.”
  • Use books and stories to teach children “appraisal skills”—to figure out the intentions of the characters in the book.

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