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As adults, we’re compelled to think about other people’s perspectives before we act or speak. If we don’t consider how our words and actions will make others feel, we may end up seeming impolite or even thoughtless. When you’re able to imagine a situation from someone else’s perspective, or “put yourself in their shoes,” you gain a better understanding of their thoughts.
Empathy and perspective-taking are complex skills that involve a sense of self-awareness and the ability to separate one’s own feelings from the feelings of others. It’s a function of both compassion and of seeing from another person’s perspective. It typically begins to develop around age 1, and continues to progress into adulthood.
Children who have empathy are able to recognize how their behavior impacts other people. Studies suggest that children are more likely to develop empathy and perspective-taking skills when their own emotional needs are consistently met.
Fortunately, it is possible to teach a child to take the perspective of others. You can start by playing imitative or reciprocal games with your infant. Use simple facial expressions, stick out your tongue, and play “peek-a-boo.” As your child gets older, continue to talk to them about their day. Ask open-ended questions and reflect on what they have said, with comments such as, “You must have been very disappointed.”
Here are additional things you can do to help strengthen your child’s sense of empathy.
Research has found that children who were unable to show empathy as toddlers were more likely to have increased behavior problems in first grade. Teaching empathy at a young age could be vital in preventing future behavior problems. Check out these resources for more information: