This is the second article in the series about the Seven Essential Life Skills that children need to do better in school and in life, from the book Mind in the Making by Ellen Galinsky, PhD. Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the book, which outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each skill and pairs them with real-world practices. The skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive abilities that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).
Dr. Galinsky reveals that building social and emotional skills along with intellectual competencies in the preschool years gives children the tools to grow into their full potential and become compassionate, capable and adaptable young adults.
The “People Sense”
Perspective taking is more than empathy; it is understanding the goals and intentions of others. We generally find it much easier to want others to accept our perspectives, than it is to understand the perspectives of other people. This ability is a true social-emotional-intellectual skill involving inhibitory control (inhibit our own thoughts and feelings to be open to others), cognitive flexibility (to see a situation in different ways) and reflection (consider the thoughts of others as well as our own).
Studies show that children who learn perspective taking adjust better to kindergarten: they understand what teachers want and expect, and engage in far less conflicts and aggressive behaviors. There is also a connection with learning to read: an understanding how reading works and how language works requires knowing something about what others are thinking.
Tools for parents
One of the primary roles of parents is to help their child realize that understanding others perspectives’ is an essential part of learning to be with others.
Children who have trusting relationships with their parents where they feel safe and secure, feel that can talk openly and honestly, and feel understood and supported, will have better perceptive taking abilities as they develop.
Help your children feel known and understood:
- Repeat back your child’s words or what you think they were trying to say: “You’re tired”.
- Describe what you see going on: “You threw the ball the entire length of the yard!”
- Ask a question: “Why did you like/not like this book?”
- Express empathy: “I know how that feels”.
- Talk to your child about their feelings and briefly express your feelings: “You know how sometimes you have a time-out when you’re upset? I need a little alone time and then I’ll be better”.
Use every day experiences to explain ways in which other people may see the world and how they respond to different circumstances.
Give children opportunities to pretend how others think and feel (e.g., offer props to play “house” or office”).
Apply an “other-oriented” technique. Children are more likely to listen to and be more considerate of others when direct consequences of behavior on someone else are specified (e.g., “when you leave food out, our dog eats it and gets sick”).
View conflicts and behavior problems as teaching opportunities. Try this perspective taking plus problem-solving technique:
- Identify the issue or dilemma.
- Determine the goal.
- Ask your children to brainstorm and write down alternative solutions (without critique).
- Consider how the solutions might work by evaluating the pros and cons of each alternative.
- Select and implement a solution. After a trial period, meet again with your children to discuss what is/is not working.
- Evaluate the outcome. If the solution did not work, figure out why, repeat the process, and try something else.
Use children’s books as discussion starters to appraise situations, to think about characters’ intentions, and teach how to resolve conflicts.
Ultimately, learning to understand others has a big impact on children’s success in the future. However, it is significant to note that while Mind in the Making (MITM) focuses on supporting the emergence of perspective taking in early childhood, this skill applies to brain building at all stages of life. Life-long learning is an exemplary goal!
The next post in the Mind in the Making series explores Life Skill #3: Communicating. Extending beyond simple language development, communication skills help a child determine how to map together ideas to express what to say and understanding how the message will be understood by others.
ABOUT MIND IN THE MAKING: Decades of research into early learning and child brain development has been extensively reviewed and distilled into the Seven Essential Life Skills children need in order to thrive in school and in life. In her book, Mind in the Making, Ellen Galinsky, PhD*, outlines the developmental and neurological premise behind each of the skills and pairs them with real-world practices to help children grow into their full potential. These seven life skills are based in the science of executive functions, a set of cognitive skills that reside in the pre-frontal cortex of the brain (the goal-driven area of the brain which manages attention, emotions, and behavior).