One of the most important skills we can teach our children is to see another person’s point of view. If we’re honest, we’ll acknowledge it’s difficult for us grown-ups to do that very thing. It’s hard trying to imagine what another person is thinking or feeling. It’s not always pleasant to give another person what they want or need. How do we respond when
we disagree?

But those children who learn to respect another’s perspective and who choose to honor another person’s desires will be healthier, happier and more successful in life. Learning when and how to move beyond their own welfare and reach out to another person with understanding is an attainable goal for young children.

When we teach lifeskills, we’re teaching children to take charge of their own behaviors and attitudes. We’re giving them tools to use as they learn and grow and develop their unique personalities in our complex world. How will they cope with life choices, relationships and challenges?

Here’s some good news for parents! There are simple everyday activities to add to daily routines that will build these important skills. Let’s take a closer look at Perspective Taking.

Perspective taking is more than empathy—feeling sorry for another person. It’s also about figuring out how others think and feel. Children learn to understand the intent of other’s actions and this often avoids conflict.

All of us prefer to spend time with people who are tuned in to our point of view. We tend to avoid those who are critical or highly competitive. We want to be with those who understand us. Children who can go beyond their own needs and care about the needs and problems of others will be more successful in both learning and building friendships. This is called “understanding the other.”

How to Promote Perspective Taking

By being intentional in developing perspective taking in your children, you’ll give them many opportunities to recognize and practice the skill of understanding the needs of others. You’ll give them alternative behaviors to use when a potentially problematic situation arises.

You may find that returning to an earlier problem and talking it through after the fact is more beneficial than trying to teach the skill in “the heat of the moment.” Children who feel safe and accepted are more able to enter into problem-solving discussions than those who feel harshly judged and “wrong or bad.” It’s good to remember that feelings are not wrong in and of themselves, but it’s the way we act on them that can cause conflict.

Here are some ways to enter into conversation with your child to build the skill of perspective-taking.

Ask leading questions such as “What could that person be thinking? Feeling?”

Practice problem-solving in steps. What is the problem? What do we want? What can we do? And did we succeed? You might want to make a simple chart to use when walking through a real-life conflict.

Model language that leads to a resolution, not more conflict. For example you might say, “You’re upset. Maybe you need some quiet time.”

Listen to your child’s ideas and reassure them of unconditional love.

Use everyday experiences to talk about other people’s perspectives. “What is that character thinking?” “How does it feel when a friend takes your toy?”

Encourage pretend play. Acting out various character’s words and actions is a healthy way to explore other perspectives.

When you observe conflicts, take the opportunity to talk about the problem. “Why do you think Jimmy got angry with his friend?” or “What else could he have done?”

Putting ourselves in another person’s shoes isn’t easy. And it’s possible to make mistakes. We may fail to take another person’s background, training, and life experience into account when judging their behaviors and beliefs. We may find that we’ll never “click” with another’s way of living or their perspective on life, but we choose to respect them anyway.

Perspective taking helps children make sense of their world. It helps them understand other people’s thoughts and behaviors and predict what might happen in a given situation. Children who learn this skill adjust better in both learning and social situations and are better prepared to make their way through life with kindness and understanding.

Jan Pierce

Jan Pierce, M.Ed., is a retired teacher and author of Homegrown Readers and Homegrown Family Fun: Unplugged. Find Jan at