This is a picture of Simone in her absolute favorite shirt. You may see a tuxedo shirt, but ah – you would be wrong. You see, from her perspective (at the top looking down on her belly), she sees a kite with a pink balloon (aka corsage). She has worn this shirt for a year, so the entire Abundant Life crew knows this shirt as “The Kite Shirt.” So, no surprise, when Desmond appeared this morning sporting his equally fancy onesie, his friends all noticed. “Desmond has a kite shirt, too!” (Thanks to Uncle Brent and Aunt Jen whose wedding gave us the occasion to purchase said kite shirts…at the time, for a much younger Simone and smaller older sister, Tekoa.)
During a recent visit from the wonderful CCRR home consultant (Hi, Tessa!), Simone’s tuxedo shirt moniker opened a window to shine light on some hefty child development understanding – “Well, from her perspective, it looks like a kite!” I always recognized that upside down, the image could look like a kite. Plus, Simone has no context for a tuxedo, so the image in isolation means nothing. But it wasn’t until Tessa used the phrase, “from her perspective” that I really began to think.
Perspective taking is one of those critical life skills that Ellen Galisnky writes about in Mind in the Making. (For a great virtual book study, jump over to Not Just Cute and follow along!) Galinksy writes that the skill of perspective taking goes much farther than empathy, though we often understand the two skills to be synonymous. Perspective taking enables you to enter someone else’s shoes and make an assumption about their motivation, a challenge that requires inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and reflection. Researchers have discovered Poor Problem Solving Skills are actually A Lack of Perspective Taking dressed up in disguise. Children who lack perspective taking are quick to assign malice when none is present, and that one solution to aggressive behavior is to assist children in stepping back to make sense of the situation. Says researcher Larry Aber, once you teach children the skill of gaining perspective, “you’ve opened the gate to their problem-solving skills” (as cited in Galinsky, p. 87).
So we know it’s important, but what can we do to help nurture perspective taking in young children?
Galinksky offers several suggestions, primarily, model it! Children learn the majority of what they know through modeling, and when we vocalize our inner dialogue about what we assume other people’s motivations to be, we assist children in the process of joining that process. Also, when we gain some perspective about our children’s behaviors, we model a way of being that seeks for reasons behind behaviors instead of simply reacting to the behavior.
Lately, the same script has surfaced repeatedly between a few of the children at Abundant Life. Cadence pretends to be Tekoa, so she can take care of her little brother, Desmond. Tekoa (the real one) is often defensive about Cadence’s identity switch, and until they go to the centering space and emerge as united “Tekoas”, there is a rift in the air. One afternoon after a rest (read: napless!) time, Tekoa was having an especially difficult time accommodating a plural reality, and I sat with the two girls while we processed the disagreement.
Cadence: “Tekoa won’t let me be Tekoa.”
Me: “I wonder why Tekoa doesn’t want you to be a Tekoa also.”
Tekoa: “I don’t want her to have Desmond!”
Cadence: “But it’s not fair. I don’t have a little brother. I just have Andy!” (her pet dog)
Tekoa: “But Desmond is my brother!”
Me: “I see. Tekoa loves her brother, and wants to take care of him.”
Cadence: “You can take care of him, too.”
Tekoa: (sniffing) “Okay.”
Did you keep all the names straight? We worked it out, and best of all, the girls were able to negotiate their disagreement with my support, but not my solutions. By giving Tekoa a chance to verbalize her inner dialogue, I allowed Cadence a peek at Tekoa’s perspective, and suggested the notion that her perspective was valid in the conversation.
One of Galinsky’s other suggestions is to give children opportunities to pretend. You know all of the concern about children “just playing”?? (Yeah, not a concern at Abundant Life!) Turns out, play is a pretty critical avenue to learn many of these essential life skills! I’m sure if you’ve followed me here for very long, you know my philosophy about play-based learning. It is the method by which children grow into who they are supposed to be, and the most significant activity for children to engage in during the early years in their lives. But, in case you were still on the fence about how important children’s play is, here is one more benefit of extended, uninterrupted, child-directed experiences. Through taking on different roles in dramatic play, children learn perspective taking. Bonus! Here is a snippet of some dramatic play from today:
Cadence: “Emily? Can you be the grandma?”
Cadence: “Okay. I am Tekoa, and this is my baby brother, Desmond.”
Me: “Okay. Hi, grandchildren!” (in my best grandma voice)
Addie: “You be the grandpa?”
Me: “You want me to be the grandpa?”
Me: “Right now, I am the grandma. Maybe you could ask Cadence if she would mind if I was the grandpa instead.”
It took some negotiating, but we all agreed – I would be the grandpa.
Me: “Hello, grandchildren!” (in my best grandpa voice)
Grandchildren: “Hi, Grandpa!” Christian came running over to me and hugged my leg. Simone crawled over to me and mumbled in a baby voice. Tekoa came over to introduce herself.
Tekoa: “Hi. I’m Emily. This is my baby, Desmond.”
Grandpa: “Oh, hi daughter and grandson.”
And so it went for a while: we brought in the cousins, I read a few stories, and we snuggled. What was remarkable for me to reflect on during this play was how easily the children assumed their roles, donning baby speak when necessary, crawling when the role demanded it, “crying” for attention instead of verbalizing needs, taking care of younger “children”. This type of play happens throughout the day – almost constantly! I do not enter unless I am asked, or unless the situation needs some scaffolding, or if I want to complicate the situation to a higher level of play. Mostly, I observe, and every time, I am struck by how easily the crew can accommodate a change in roles. Always, I am impressed by the level of perspective taking required to sustain these scripts.