Perspective-Taking in Children
Written by Rachel Ealy, M.Ed
I once had a child tell me that taking someone else’s perspective is impossible. Children, especially those diagnosed with ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorders, tend to take things literally and struggle with perspective-taking. This is because of a child’s cognitive development. Jean Piaget, a renowned psychologist and child development theorist, developed the stage theory of cognitive development that is still used to understand children today. This theory includes 4 stages: Sensorimotor (birth to age 2), Preoperational (age 2-7), Concrete Operational (7-11), and Formal Operational (age 12 and up). According to Piaget, children in the Preoperational Stage are typically 2-7 years of age. Children in this stage are egocentric or self-centered, meaning that they have difficulty understanding the world from another person’s perspective (Cherry, 2018). Even into the Concrete Operational Stage, ages 7 to 11, “children are still very concrete and literal in their thinking” (Cherry, 2018). It is important for parents, teachers, and fellow counselors to keep this research in mind when helping children learn about perspective taking. Instead of simply defining perspective-taking and expecting them to understand what it is, try modeling this behavior and using concrete examples to teach them. It is also important to remember that child development is unique and complex. The age ranges shown above are averages and each child will proceed through the stages in their own unique way.
Perspective-taking is the ability to understand something from another person’s point of view. Often times it is described as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. This is a difficult concept to learn, even for adults! Dr. Michele Borba stated that, “[w]hen children can grasp another’s perspective, they are more likely to be empathetic, anticipate the other’s behavior or thinking, handle conflicts peacefully, be less judgmental, value differences, speak up for those who are victimized, and act in ways that are more helpful, comforting, and supportive of others” (n.d.). Wow! What an amazing list of advantages. Here are a few ways to begin fostering the development of perspective-taking skills in your child(ren).
1. Read books together
· Ask your child about their own thoughts and feelings. For example: “How did you feel during this part of the story?”
· Share your own thoughts and feelings with your child during or after reading.
· Ask your child if they were a certain character in the book how they would feel.
· Ask your child how they think different characters feel or why different characters behaved in certain ways.
2. Actually step in to someone else’s shoes
· Have siblings or friends switch shoes or;
· From a discount store, purchase used shoes such as skates, slippers, boots, dress shoes, high heels etc. Have your child step in to each shoe and describe who might wear the particular shoe and what their thoughts and feelings may be. You can even have them create a story about this person. Don't be afraid to get creative with this one!
3. Back-to-back drawings (Mendoza, 2013-2018).
· Sit back to back with your child.
· Describe a picture using verbal instructions.
· Have your child try to draw what you are saying.
· Switch roles and have your child give verbal instructions and try to draw what you hear them saying.
· This activity helps children understand that we all have different perspectives and ways of interpreting information.
4. Parents, check out Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba for more exercises, examples and a nine-step plan to increase empathy in children.
If your child or teen is struggling with perspective-taking, empathy, or other social skills, we have a wonderful group of counselors at Heights Family Counseling that specialize in social skills development. Check out our website for online booking, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at 713-380-1151 to schedule an appointment today!
Rachel is a LPC-Intern at Heights Family Counseling who specializes in working with children and adolescents. She believes that counseling should be for everyone as everyone could use extra support, a place to define purpose and values, and tools to use to tackle life’s everyday problems, as well as someone to support your successes in life. Rachel specializes in working with children, adolescents, young adults, and couples. Learn more about Rachel's counseling approach by visiting https://heightsfamilycounseling.com/amy-rollo/
Borba, M. (n.d.). 7 ways to teach perspective taking and stretch students’ empathy muscles. Retrieved from http://micheleborba.com/8-ways-to-teach-perspective-taking-and-stretch-students-empathy-muscles/
Cherry, K. (2018, September 24). The 4 stages of cognitive development. Retrieved from
Mendoza, L. P. (2013-2018). Activities for kids on the autism spectrum. Retrieved from https://www.schoolcounselingfiles.com/activities-for-kids-on-the-autism-spectrum.html