Tag Archive for empathy

Benefits of the “After-School Meltdown”

Does your preschool or elementary school age child “throw a tantrum” every day after school?  You find this tantrum even more frustrating because their teacher tells you how well they behave in school and then when you get them home…it’s another story. You are experiencing the “after-school meltdown.” As frustrating as they are, it is not unusual for our children to have after-school meltdowns. The first step in helping end the after-school meltdown is to take the time to understand what is happening. In reality, you already know what’s happening. You’ve had the same experience. You finish a long day of work and, feeling tired, you walk in the front door of your home. You are irritable and just want a little down time, but you’re immediately bombarded with questions about your day, explanations of what happened while you were away, requests to do this or that…. How do you feel? Want to throw a tantrum? You understand those feelings. Your children are experiencing the same thing. They have put in a full day of work. They had to follow the rules whether they liked them or not. They were forced to listen, focus, and complete work that challenges them. They may have experienced conflict with peers, witnessed other children doing things that caused them stress, or felt the pain of not doing as well as they wanted on an assignment. It is tiring. It’s stressful. They come home tired and irritable. But (here is where you are different) they do not understand those feelings. They do not know how to express those feelings yet. So, the first thing to do when your children experience the after-school meltdown is to remember. Remember they are communicating the same feelings of exhaustion and stress that you have often felt after a day of work.

Not only do you understand those feelings (you’ve “been there & done that”), you also know how to respond to them. You have learned how to soothe yourself and relax, to recover from stress. You know places you can go to relax and “re-create” your sense of calm. Your children have not learned how to do this yet. They need you to teach them…and you do.  First, they learn by watching you take care of ourselves. Second, they learn when you teach them directly. You can teach them about activities that might help them relax and soothe, activities like reading a book, painting or drawing, listening to music, or taking a walk.  You can help them identify places where they feel especially calm and relaxed, places like the backyard, their bedroom, the kitchen as they help cook dinner and talk, a “fort” in the back yard or the family room. I remember how much the walk home from school helped me relax from the day during middle school. Teach your children the skills. Help them practice the skills to “pull themselves together” and recoup after a stressful day.

As you teach them how to soothe themselves, you teach them a lifetime skill. You give them a gift they can use throughout their educational career and even in their work lives, family lives, and parenting lives. And, it all begins with the acceptance of the “after school meltdown.”

6 Traits for an Intimate Marriage

We were made for, and we long for, intimate connection. In fact, our attachment with other human beings is crucial, even necessary, for a healthy life. Marriage is one place we hope to find such an enduring connection. Unfortunately, many people find themselves feeling disconnected and isolated in marriage. This disconnected marriage brings pain and misery to everyone involved.  A connected marriage brings joy.  To get this connected marriage requires a few traits that are often overlooked when we speak about happy marriages. Let me explain a few.

  1. To have an intimate marriage we need to be trustworthy. Our spouse needs to know we will keep our commitments and follow through on our promises. Our spouse will see our trustworthiness in our actions toward them and our actions toward others. If we want an intimate and enduring marriage, we need to become trustworthy people, people worthy of receiving honor and trust. (Read 6 Pillars of Trust to learn how to develop trust.)
  2. To have an intimate marriage we must learn to trust. I realize that trusting another person leaves us vulnerable, especially if we have experienced hurt at the hands of those we loved in the past. But, without trust in a relationship both parties feel the need to protect themselves. They struggle to be completely open with one another. A wedge of secrecy and self-protection comes between them and drives them apart. We can avoid this wedge of secrecy and self-protection by becoming trustworthy people and people who trust one another.
  3. An intimate relationship is built on the gift of empathy. We need to realize our spouse has a valid perspective and opinion even if they disagree with us. Empathy goes a step beyond that realization and demands we strive to understand our spouse’s perspective, to see the world through their eyes. We must work to understand their world so well we can understand the basis of their perspective even if we disagree with it. (Quit Taking Your Spouse’s Perspective may sound like a contradiction, but it really explains how to do this most effectively!)
  4. A person nurtures intimacy when they remain attentive and available to their spouse. Spouses can make up to 100 bids for connection during any 10 minutes spent together (link). You can attend to these bids for connection or turn away from them, accept them or reject them. Of course, if you reject them you will experience disconnection, isolation, and anger. When we accept and respond to them we enjoy a growing sense of connection, love, and intimacy. (Learn how to respond to those bids for connection in RSVP for Intimacy)
  5. Spouses who enjoy intimate marriages remain teachable. A teachable person loves their spouse enough to learn about them and from them. They can admit their own mistakes and apologize. A teachable person continues to learn about their spouse. They remain a student of their spouse’s interests, strengths, vulnerabilities, fears, and a myriad other things. Remaining teachable and learning about your spouse provides the necessary tools for building intimacy with your spouse.
  6. Those who enjoy an intimate marriage exhibit humility. They are humble and learn from mistakes. They change in response to their spouse’s legitimate concerns. Humble people support one another. Humble people allow their spouse to influence them. Humble people enjoy intimacy in their marriages. (For a challenge in humility, become A Leader in Submission in your marriage.)

Raise Kinder Children

Want to raise kinder children? Me, too! A recent study (Reading May Make Us Kinder, Students Research Into Fiction Habits and Personality Types Reveals) conducted by a post-graduate student at Kingston University suggests a simple way to do it! The study asked 123 adults their preference: reading fiction or watching TV. The same adults were tested on their interpersonal skills like considering other people’s feelings and their desire to help others. Those who preferred reading fictional stories showed greater empathy, greater consideration of other people’s needs, and a greater desire to help other people than those who preferred TV.  In fact, those who preferred TV came across as less friendly and less tolerant of other people’s viewpoints. The author of the study suggests reading makes people think more deeply about characters and, as a result, develop empathic skills and kindness.

Here’s the take home message of this study for all parents. If you want to raise kinder children, children who show empathy and consideration in their desire to help others, chuck the remote and read some books. Turn off the TV and read. Read TO your child…read WITH your child…EVERYDAY.  Go to the library, find books that interest your child, and read. You can take turns reading out loud to one another. Or, you can both read the same book and discuss what you’ve read.  Whatever you choose, JUST READ.  Did you catch the take home message for raising kinder children? Encourage your children to read.

“Mom, It’s Just Marijuana”…Really?

The perception of marijuana has changed dramatically in recent years. With this change in perception, teens increasingly report a belief that marijuana is completely safe and, in fact, seem to believe it enhances their lives physically and mentally. Parents also seem more open to their children using marijuana. With all this in mind, I wanted to share what research has discovered about the impact of marijuana use for adolescents.

  • parenting challengePersistent marijuana use interferes with adolescent brain development. Individuals who started using marijuana in their teens and smoked persistently showed an average 8 point drop in their IQ between the ages of 18 and 38 years…even if they stopped using! Teen brains are not fully formed. They are still developing. And, persistent marijuana use interferes with their development. (Read study review here.)
  • Some studies suggest that regular marijuana use during adolescence may increase the risk of developing serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia. These same studies suggest that the areas of the brain associated with planning and impulse control are the areas experiencing greater long-term affects lasting into adulthood. (Read study review here.)
  • Teens who smoke marijuana daily for about three years experienced poor working memory, which predicts poor academic performance, and results in poor performance on memory tasks. These decreases in ability lasted until at least the early 20’s—the college age when academic performance becomes increasingly important. The young adults who abused marijuana as teens (and were now two years marijuana free) performed about 18% worse on long-term memory tests than young adults who never abused marijuana. (Read study review here and another one here.)
  • Individuals who started using marijuana prior to 16-years-old experienced arrested development in the prefrontal cortex, the areas of the brain responsible for judgment, reasoning, planning, and critical thinking. In other words, marijuana abuse beginning prior to 16-years-old interferes with the development of skills important to impulse control, planning, and academic performance. (Read study review here.)
  • Marijuana use may interfere with a person’s ability to empathize with another person’s emotion. This, in turn, could greatly impact the ability to form intimate relationships. (Read study review here.)
  • In one study, 18- to 25-year-olds who regularly used marijuana seemed to demonstrate impaired processing of social norms. They seemed less aware of social norms and exhibited a reduced capacity to reflect on or react to negative social situations. (Read study review here.)
  • In another study, those in their mid-twenties who were heavy users of marijuana (using dependently for 7 years) exhibited a compromised dopamine system in their brain. Specifically, this could impact working memory, impulse control, and attention span. (Read study review here.)
  • Marijuana use dampens the brain’s reward system over time. In other words, people who use marijuana feel less reward, less enjoyment, from positive, pleasurable experiences. This may increase their risk-taking behavior and the chances of addiction. (Read study review here.)
  • Although teens often seem to believe marijuana use decreases their depressive symptoms, studies suggest that it has no effect on depression. In addition, marijuana use starting at a young age (under 17-years-old) led to “abnormal brain function in areas of the brain related to visual-spatial processing, memory, self-referential activity, and reward processing.” (Read study review here.)
  • Many teens seem to think marijuana use enhances creativity. However, recent studies suggest that regular users of marijuana are worse at creative thinking. They also performed poorly on tests in which they had to detect their own mistakes. (Read study review here.)

More research needs done, but perhaps these studies can begin to help us gain some understanding of the potential effect of marijuana on our teens’ developing brains.

Dunkin’ Donuts & A Better Behaved Child

I stood in line at Dunkin’ Donuts when a mother and her young son entered the store. They line was moving very slow. As we waited for the opportunity to pick out our donuts, this boy’s excitement began to bubble over. Suddenly, the levee that contained his excitement Mother And Son Doing Laundrybroke. He burst out into loud sounds, large gestures, and a quick run in circles around his mother. His mother calmly picked him up and smiled. He smiled back as she said, “You are really excited for your donut aren’t you?”  His eyes grew so large with excitement and joy I thought they might pop out.  “But,” she continued, “Do you see all the people already eating their donuts?” The little boy looked around and nodded. “We will get our donut soon.” He hugged his mother at those words. She continued, “In the meantime, all the people eating donuts now don’t want to be disturbed by someone running and yelling. So…, (I don’t know if she paused for dramatic effect, but I leaned forward waiting for “the rest of the story”) will you stand patiently with me while we wait for our donut?” The young man smiled and shook his head yes. She set him down and together they stood, hand in hand, patiently waiting for their turn to order a donut. I stood in line and smiled. I had just witnessed a wonderful example of the effectiveness of inductive parenting.

 

Inductive parenting is considered the most effective parenting style for helping a child internalize social norms and family values. Three components make it so effective. First, inductive parenting communicates how actions affect other people. When this young mother told her son to “see all the people…,” she raises his awareness of others. She did not judge or lecture. She simply made him aware. In doing so, she taught him to have empathy, to think about other people, to see things from their perspective. She encouraged him to experience his behavior from another person’s point of view. Her son will learn to recognize how his behavior affects others in positive and negative ways as she continues to do this. In short, he will earn to be respectful of other people.

 

Second, inductive parenting teaches the benefits of “social cooperation.” When this young boy’s mother told him ‘the people eating don’t want to be disturbed by someone running and yelling,” she was teaching him social cooperation, to think about other people and be considerate of their rights and desires. He learned that respecting other people involves cooperating with their desires, not just thinking of his own desires.

 

Third, inductive parenting gives a positive behavioral alternative. The mother described above did this when she asked her son to “stand with me while we wait.” Not only did this young man learn to be aware of the impact of his behavior on others and to respect other people by cooperating with their desires, but he learned how to do this. In addition, his mother stood with him, hand in hand as they talked about their plans for the day. He learned and experienced the joy of interacting with his mother while waiting in line. Most likely, he saw the smiles of other patrons as they witnessed a mother and son having a positive, respectful interaction (after all, she made her son aware of them).

 

Using the three components of inductive parenting will help your child internalize your family values. One more tip to help the process along: do not lecture. Simply state the expectation or raise your child’s awareness and move on. Keep it brief and to the point. Even better, as your children learn the expectations ask them rather than tell them. “Is that how we act in public?” “How do you think your behavior is making other customers feel?” “Is that how a young man/lady behaves?” Asking questions encourages your child to process what they already know. Each time they process what they know and think it through, the more likely they will act on it in the future.

Turn Your Argument Into the Best Part of the Day…Make It Bearable Anyway

When you find yourself in an argument or disagreement (notice how I say “find myself” in an argument; I never start one…well, maybe once in a while…alright, alright, so even when I start an argument) with another family member, how can you make it bearable? Who is responsible to make it “go well”—the ones who starts it or the ones who finds themselves in the midst of it? Dr. Gottman suggests that both people in the argument (the speaker and the listener) hold responsibility for the outcome; both are responsible to make the argument end well. Here are the 9 ways to help an argument end well, 4 tips for the speaker and 5 tips for the listener.

 First, the Speaker’s responsibility includes:


·     State your feelings in as neutral a manner as possible. Remain objective and state your feelings in a “soft manner” rather than an intense emotional manner. Intense emotion may overwhelm your spouse and make it difficult for them to hear what you are saying.


·     Avoid making “you statements.” “You statements” tend to blame, accuse, and attack your spouse. “You statements” will more often result in defensiveness from your spouse, escalating the argument. Avoid them as much as possible.  


·     Instead, use “I” statements to state how you feel in this specific situation. Really, the only person you can honestly report on is yourself. So, stick with “I statements” about yourself, not “you statements” about your spouse. Also, stick to one specific situation at a time.  No need to throw in the kitchen sink. Stay specific and deal with one situation at a time.


·     Convert your complaint about the other person into a positive need (or what your spouse can do to help). This offers your spouse a plan of action, a way to help remedy the situation. It reveals something about you to your spouse, increasing intimacy with your spouse.

         When the Speaker follows these four tips, it will change the whole feel of the argument.  Instead of saying, “Here’s what’s wrong with you” and “This is what you need to stop” you  will be saying, “Here’s what I feel” and “Here is a positive thing I need from you.”

 Second, the Listener’s responsibility includes:

      ·     Remember your spouse’s “enduring vulnerabilities”—their triggers, buttons, troubling memories, etc. Remembering your spouse’s “enduring vulnerabilities” will help shape your response to them. You can honor your spouse by avoiding the sarcastic or implied statements that push buttons and flip triggers. You can show love by responding with comments that calm their “enduring vulnerabilities.” 


·     Turn toward your partner by postponing your own agenda. You will still get to talk about your concerns, but postpone talking for the moment so you can listen. Have the grace to be quick to listen and slow to speak. This will endear you to your spouse and reduce the conflict.


·     Make understanding your spouse the goal. Instead of working to make sure your spouse understands your point of view, be gracious and work to understand their point of view. Let them have the first and last word!


·     Listen non-defensively by postponing your response and getting in touch with your partner’s pain or emotion. Listen to understand how this situation has made them feel. Underneath all the anger, do they feel unloved, devalued, unworthy, abandoned, inadequate?


·     Empathize—respond to their underlying feeling with compassion and empathy. Assure them of your love and respect. Reaffirm your commitment and respond to their feelings with reassurance. You will find it helps everyone remain calm when you can summarize your partner’s view and validate it with a sentence like…“I understand why you feel… because …”

 As an added bonus, here are 3 tips for both the Listener and Speaker:

1.    If you identify a negative quality in your partner, look for that same quality in yourself.

2.    If you identify a positive quality in yourself, look for that same quality in your partner.

3.    Look for the similar desires and intents throughout the argument.

Follow these tips and you will find your arguments become the best part of the day…alright, so I exaggerate…a lot. But, honestly, follow these tips and you will find the arguments resolve more quickly and more productively. They become opportunities for growing intimacy…and making up will be a whole lot more fun!

Bridge the Communication Gap with Your Teen (& Just About Anyone Else)

Sometimes teens are hard to talk to. Let’s be real…sometimes spouses, children, and even parents are hard to talk to. If I’m honest, I have to admit that sometimes I am hard to talk to. I have discovered a tool to improve communications—a tool to help bridge the communication gap, slow the communication roller coaster, and create better communications with our teens (and any other family member really). We accomplish this amazing feat through validation. That’s right…validation. Recognizing and accepting our teen’s experience as valid, even if we disagree with it, can build better communication. When we accept our teen’s feelings as reasonable, given their understanding and perspective of the situation, we will build more intimate communication with them. Validation builds a bridge to better communication on the pillars of:


·     Acceptance. We all desire acceptance. When we validate our teen’s emotional experiences, we communicate acceptance of them, even in the midst of emotional pain or physical changes. This acceptance informs them that they belong…we accept them, differences and all.    


·     Value. Validation not only expresses acceptance, it communicates how much we value our teen, their perspective, their thoughts, and their feelings.


·     Respect. Accepting and valuing our teen’s perspective expresses respect. We all desire respect. We all respond better to those who treat us with respect.


·     Honesty. Acceptance, value, and respect open the door for honest communication. Honest communication, premised on acceptance and respect, allows for more open discussion of differences and an earnest seeking for a healthy, respectful solution. 


·     Calming one another. When we know a person recognizes, understands, and accepts our emotions and struggles, we feel calmer. The same is true for our teens. The feeling of being understood will help calm them and help them learn to manage their emotions. It also opens the door for more communication and problem-solving.


·     Identity.
 Acknowledging and accepting our teens’ emotions allows them the freedom to explore their identity based on the values of acceptance, respect, and honesty. Validation means your teen will not have to argue to prove their point, put up defenses to save face, or disagree to assert their independence. Instead, they can use that same energy to explore their values and identity.

  By validating your teen you build a secure bridge to better communication on the secure pillars noted above. That’s all well and good…but how do I validate my teen?


·     First, listen. Let your teen complete their story. Let them finish so you have all the information. Listen so you can understand their perspective.


·     Second, let them know you get it…you understand what happened from their perspective (even if you disagree). Strive to understand so well that their actions make sense based on their level of maturity, the knowledge they have acquired, and the perspective they have.


·     Third, let them know you understand how they feel. Combine the second and third step into a statement of your understanding of what happened and how it made them feel…from their perspective. Keep listening until you can make that statement and they respond with something like “Finally, you understand.”


·     Fourth, based on their perspective and what they told you, let them know that their emotions make sense. This means really working to see things through their eyes.


·     Fifth, empathize with their emotions.


·     Finally, problem-solve with them if they want help with a solution.

Validation will build a strong bridge of communication built on honesty, respect, and acceptance. It will bridge the communication gap with your teen…and just about anyone else in the family as well.

4 Ingredients for a Happy Family

I discovered a new recipe for Happy Family. No, I’m not talking about the Chinese dish, although I would enjoy Happy Family for dinner tonight (click here for a recipe for the “edible happy family”)…well, both the dish and the family come to think of it. Anyway, I am talking about a simple way you can turn your family into a happy family. This recipe works especially well in the heat of conflict. 

 

First, realize that conflict is often too hot to handle. Cool it down with a neutralizer. State what has upset you in as neutral a tone as possible. To help you stay neutral, avoid statements beginning with “you.” Making comments like “You drive me crazy,” “You always mess things up,” “You’re so stupid,” or “You make me so mad…” only adds heat to the recipe, threatens to scorch the relationship and burn your family. Instead, turn down the heat by making more neutral comments. Start these comments with an “I” instead of a “you” and simply state how you feel in this specific situation in as neutral a tone as possible.  “I’m really upset right now,” “I am worried that this will end badly,” “I am hurt by that statement,” and similar statements will go a long way in keeping the heat of conflict to a moderate level. And, in all reality, these comments speak the truth more accurately. They truthfully express how you feel rather than making assumptive statements that exaggerate the other person’s faults.

 

Second, replace your complaint or criticism with a positive action the other person can take to help. Rather than throwing bitter blame, sour complaints, or overly-spicy name-calling into the recipe mix, state what positive thing your family can do to help. State what you want rather than what you don’t want. Stating your “positive need” (what you do want) infuses a solution into the recipe mix and adds the sweet opportunity for an expression of love. And, as John Gottman says, “Stating your positive need is a recipe for success.”

 

Third, add listening to the recipe as a stabilizer. Without stabilizing the family in the midst of conflict, those involved will “weep” and separate. Listening acts as a stabilizer, binding us to one another and helping all the ingredients, including the people, stick together. Listen carefully and non-defensively with the goal of understanding the other person’s emotions and pain.

 

Finally, add the calming sweetener of empathy. As you listen non-defensively, summarize your partner’s point of view. Validate the other person by repeating the meaning of what they have said and labeling the emotion behind what they have said. Summarize their perspective with a simple sentence or two.

 

Combine these 4 ingredients over the heat of conflict, mix gently, and you will enjoy a Happy Family. You know, I got a little hungry writing this. I think I’ll go practice these 4 ingredients with my wife. Then, we can work together on the recipe for the Happy Family dish. Tonight, we can sit down as a Happy Family for a serving of Happy Family. Sounds like a happy time.

Becoming Your Child’s Royal Subject

Do you ever feel like your children are the ones in charge? Like you are their royal subject? In some ways, our children do hold a great deal of power. From the day our little prince or princess is born, they begin to shape our life. We sleep when she sleeps, eat when she eats, and change our schedule of activities based on her schedule. Our child’s royal reign does not end as she grows older. Even when she reaches her teen years, we find ourselves waiting up at night (with at least one eye open) for her to come through the front door safe and sound after an evening out with her friends…or, we arrange to eat dinner early so she can make it to the high school football game on time.
 
Yes, in many ways we become the royal subjects of our children. Really, it’s not such a bad thing. In fact, I believe it is good and right that we become subject to our children in some areas. Don’t get me wrong. Parents remain parents. Parents have to maintain a role of authority…but there are areas in which a parent becomes subject to their children; and, parent and child both benefit from this role. When we become the royal subjects of our children, we learn what it means to “not look out for our own personal interests but also for the interests of others.” We practice the art of “considering other people’s needs as more important than our own.” Consider this example. A mother generally learns the difference between her child’s cry of hunger and her child’s cry for a diaper change. When she hears her tired baby cry for a diaper change, she does not force her baby to sleep or eat. She does not decide that her baby’s need for a nap is more important than the baby’s “expressed” desire for a diaper change. No, a mother becomes her child’s royal subject. She submits to her child’s need and meets that need. Psychologists call this a contingent response: a response that is dependent on the child’s needs…a response that strives to meet the child’s expressed need. When parents become the royal subject of their child’s true needs, she will learn to trust others and develop a trust in her own ability to influence those around her to help meet her needs. In order for parents to practice giving their child a “contingent response,” they must become their child’s royal subject. This involves three things.
     ·         First, as a royal subject, make yourself aware of your child’s needs. Learn about your child and her fears, worries, vulnerabilities, joys, anticipations, and dreams. Discover what interests her and what bothers her. Learn about her daily activities and her upcoming activities. Pay attention to what arouses her fear and anxiety. Notice her moods and what precipitates those moods. Learn how your words impact her and what words elicit the best response from her. Discover when and where she is most likely to talk to you about her daily life. Pay attention to how she responds to you and adjust your response accordingly. In other words, give up your desire to make your child what you want them to be and study the person they are. Think more highly about her interests and do not let your interests dictate hers.

·         As your child tells you about her needs, accept them as legitimate. They may seem small and irrelevant to you, but they are significant and often overwhelming to your child. Give up your adult understanding long enough to listen to your child and understand her fear, joy, or anxiety about the situation. Empathize with her concerns and begin to ask questions to help you gain an understanding of her perspective of the situation. Give up your need to be heard and your desire for your child to have a pain-free existence. Instead, be vulnerable enough to accept her need, understand her perspective of that need, empathize with pain, and listen…listen…listen.

·         After you have shown your child that you understand the situation from her perspective and you have empathized with her concerns, then you can move into mutual problem solving. Do not solve the problem for her. Give up your need to have the perfect answer and become your child’s hero. Instead, allow her to problem solve and discover a solution with your guidance. You might even begin by simply asking, “What do you think you’ll do about that?” Then, have a conversation about the situation that can help her understand the problem in a new light. Develop a solution together.
 
Children teach us many things. By learning to have a “contingent response” to our child’s needs, we learn to “do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard [our child] as more important than ourselves, not merely looking out for our own personal interests, but also for the interests of [our child]” (Philippians 2:3-4). In this way, we become the royal subjects of our children so they can learn the best way to live and grow into mature adults.

Children, Perspective-Taking, & A Soccer Game

My wife and I were playing ball with our 3 1/2-year-old daughter. We rolled the ball, bounced the ball, threw the ball…you know the drill. At one point, my wife ran inside to do something. I suggested to my daughter that we “hide the ball from Mommy” and ask her to find it when she returned. With a twinkle in her eye, my daughter agreed to the new game. We carefully hid the ball and waited. As my wife approached, I asked my daughter where she thought her mother would look for the ball. With great confidence, she replied that Mommy would look right where the ball was hidden even though she had no way of knowing where we hid it. Why did my daughter (a bright 3 1/2-year-old girl) believe her mom would know where the ball was? Because children this age believe everyone thinks like them. They believe that everyone sees the world in the same way they see the world. If my daughter knew where the ball was hidden, so would her mother. She could not put herself in her mother’s shoes and see through her eyes. At this young age, there is only one way to see the world…my way!
 
Fortunately, my daughter has not stayed this way for life. Everyone needs to develop the ability to take another person’s perspective in order to build empathy, compassion, and consideration. But, learning perspective-taking does not happen overnight. Just consider the game of soccer. Imagine this scenario, a scenario that exemplifies the perspective-taking required to play a position and work together as a team. One player dribbles the ball down the field. 1) From his perspective, he sees the goal as well as the opponent between him and the goal. He observes his opponent react to his various moves; and… 2) from his opponents’ perspective, he notices himself fading left and begins to follow that lead. 3) From the goalie’s perspective, he “watches” himself moving toward the left side of the goal. 4) From his teammate’s perspective, he sees an open net as the goalie is hanging toward the left side of the net and his team mate is on the right. After quickly assessing the field from his own perspective as well as the perspective of his opponent, the goalie, and his teammate, he can choose whether to pass to his team mate or take a shot. A 5-year-old simply cannot do this. The 5-year-old can only see the field through his eyes and his eyes only…his own perspective. So, where does the team of 5-year-old players stand on the field?  They hover over the ball. They have only one perspective–that of them and the ball. One goal–kick the ball in the goal. They cannot understand the concept of playing a position or working as a team because they cannot see the game through the eyes anyone but themselves.
 
Even at 9-years-old a child has difficulty taking the kind of perspective needed to play a position and work naturally as a team. I recall one coach screaming at his team of 9-year-olds to “stay in position.” He spent the majority of the game yelling at his players to stay in position, but they kept “forgetting” and falling out of position to get the ball. These 9-year-old players were not being obstinate or disobedient. They were simply not developmentally ready to understand the benefit of remaining in position. Since they still could not consistently see things from another person’s point of view, they could not understand the benefit of playing a position. They will definitely learn from simple prompts to remain in position at this age. (I must add, though, that screaming at them is ineffective. In fact, screaming at children only scrambles their brains and decreases their ability to think calmly.) Zoom ahead and we find that the players at 10 or 11-years-old begin to “stay in position.” They work as a team because they can see the field through one another’s eyes, one another’s perspective. And, it only two 10 or 11 years! 
 
Fast forward just one more time to adolescence. The adolescent constantly sees herself through the eyes of others. She melts down in response to a “bad hair day” or a minor skin blemish on her face because “everyone will see it.” Suddenly, through the eyes of perspective taking on steroids, every minor flaw and small action takes on overwhelming impact…”everyone will notice,” “everyone will laugh.”
 
Why do I tell you all this? Why run through this little developmental storyline about learning to see the world through other people’s eyes? Because I need constant reminders to base my expectations for a child on their developmental ability. Perhaps you will benefit from this reminder as well. We cannot expect our 4-year-olds to understand another person’s point of view the same way our 16-year-old might. This is true when you think about perspective taking in sports, sharing, showing compassion, resolving disagreements, and even social interactions. Although we cannot demand more perspective taking than our child is developmentally able to give, we still want to teach them the benefits of seeing another person’s point of view and how to do so. After all, taking the time to see the world from another person’s perspective opens up the possibility for true empathy and compassion. It contributes to the ability to negotiate and compromise. It leads to consideration of others and acts of kindness that other people can truly appreciate. So, how do we build perspective taking abilities in our children? As they used to say at the end of Batman…”Tune in next time…same bat station…same bat time…” for 4 ways to promote perspective taking in your children.
« Older Entries