Middle childhood typically arrives with major advances in the ability to take another person’s perspective. Children in this age group (about six to eleven years) have the capacity to imagine what someone else might be thinking and feeling. Over time, children come to realize that two people can interpret the same event differently.
As youthful perspective-taking abilities evolve, a child can also think about how another person might regard his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Statements such as “I thought you would know I was just kidding when I teased you about that” reflect the growing development of taking another’s point of view.
Developing this perspective supports self-concept, self-esteem, understanding others, and social skills. Perspective taking is an important skill to nurture. Parents can help nudge this development by explaining their own viewpoints and talking with children about the possible feelings and thoughts experienced by another person. For example, if you have taken your child and a friend on a Halloween outing, you might teach through your own observation by saying something like, “You had so much fun at the haunted house. . . . It didn’t look like Jenny was enjoying it quite so much. What do you think she was thinking and feeling about it?” The same idea could be applied to an afternoon at the pool, climbing a tree, or a choral event at school. So many opportunities present themselves every day to notice another person’s perspective.
We parents can also model how to look for and listen to another person’s perspective in the moment-to-moment interactions with our children. When we take time to listen to our children’s perspective, take them seriously, and care about their thoughts and feelings, our kids get firsthand experience in noticing another person’s point of view. Over time, they learn how to understand another person’s point of view because they have experienced it themselves.
Having the ability to take another person’s perspective takes time, and we parents can do some nurturing and modeling along the way.