Chapter Three: Empathetic Children Understand the Needs of Others Instilling Perspective Taking and Learning to Walk in Another’s Shoes
By Whitney Lawrence
The ability to take on other perspectives is essential to combat the hatred, intolerance, and injustices prevalent in the world. According to Borba (2017), taking on another's perspective is a “gateway to empathy” (p. 49). When we can feel what others feel, see what others see, experience what others experience, we are more likely to show empathy, reduce our own personal biases, and improve our interactions and connections with individuals. But, this is not an easy task. We live in a world where power-assertion discipline styles take precedence over empathy-building practices. Spanking, yelling, shaming, time-out, and reward systems are used to discipline children. The problem with such methods is that they do not position children to consider how their actions affect other individuals. Furthermore, such methods reinforce negative behaviors, degrade and embarrass children, and do not position children to be kind and caring citizens.
No spanking, yelling, shaming, time-out, or rewards??? As a mother of an independent, free-thinking two-year-old, I thought, “How am I going to ever set limits and boundaries? How am I going to encourage my own child to be an empathic, caring human?” The good news is that there are some simple approaches that can make a lasting impact.
Encourage your children to imagine how others might feel, drawing attention to the victim’s distress and emphasizing how the behavior was hurtful.
When talking with children, remember the Goldilocks method-- not too harsh, not too soft, but just right.
Show your children that you’re disappointed, not angry.
Utilize impact statements and inductive-type discipline approaches, ones that focus the child’s attention to the effect of their behavior on another individual.
Our children care what others think and feel. It is imperative that we harness this, setting conditions for them to take on others’ perspectives. When we do this, we not only build habits for empathy, but we also broaden children’s perspectives beyond the ones they carry from their lived experiences alone. The CARE method was shared in this chapter as an inductive-discipline approach that assists children in seeing things from another’s perspective.
Call attention to the uncaring.
Assess how the uncaring affects others.
Repair the hurt and require reparations.
Express disappointment and stress caring expectations.
This method models four central facets of perspective taking while building empathy. Imagination can play a role in building empathy and assisting children with taking on others’ perspectives. We can have children--
Explain a situation from someone else’s point of view
Role play a situation to experience the feelings and thoughts of someone else
Use props to “try on” new perspectives
Imagine how someone else might feel
Ask “I wonder” questions that encourage them to consider different scenarios
Redo a situation by role playing a different approach, reaction, or behavior
In a time and place where behavior charts sit out on children’s desks at school, 94% of parents spank their children by the age of four (Campbell, 2002), and the need for empathic, connected humans is at an all-time high, it is time to reconsider our approaches to discipline. It is time that we instill perspective taking so our children can handle conflicts on the playground now and disputes in the workplace later. Through such an approach, discipline moves from focusing on the behaviors of individuals to the character of individuals. It moves from punishment and consequences to teaching and learning. And most important, our roles are not bosses with power-assertive approaches; rather, we are mentors, leaders, and models who set conditions for kind, compassionate humans who consider and understand the needs of others.
Opportunities to reflect and challenge yourself:
Next time you are in a situation when you have to discipline a child, try an approach shared in this chapter. Share how this worked (or didn’t) and describe what you and the other individual felt, learned, and experienced.
Think about your current discipline approaches, in the classroom or at home, and reflect on one small shift that you want to make. Discuss this shift and the impact it has on you and the others.
Share an inductive-discipline approach that you use with children.
Borba, M. (2016). Unselfie. New York: Touchstone. Campbell, S. (2002). Spare the rod? Psychology Today, September 2002.