Helping Kids See Other Points of View And Why It Matters!
The world has no shortage of opinions:
We each see a single situation through our own set of lenses. The person on the left may experience it in a similar way to you, while the person to the right has a very different experience. One is not wrong. Both may be correct.
Whether you like the opinion or not, there’s a lot of power in being able to see another person’s point of view. It can help affirm your own stance. It can just as easily open your eyes to alternative ways of thinking.
Jimmy was thrilled because his teacher pulled out a couple of scooters at recess. He had his own scooter at home and loved it. Riding it was a little tricky at first, but his balance soon improved, and he spent hours zooming around his street on the weekends. Mrs. Smith partnered the children who wanted to ride the scooters into small groups. Jimmy was with Sean and Ezra. He went first, speeding down the blacktop without a care in the world. Mrs. Smith blew the whistle after a few minutes, giving Sean almost twice as long on the scooter as Jimmy’s turn. “That’s not fair! Sean’s not even good at riding the scooter,” he complained to Ezra. “Sure it’s fair,” Ezra replied. “Sean doesn’t have a scooter like you do, so the only time he gets to ride one is here at school. You can ride yours every day if you want! Don’t you want him to get good too?”
Jimmy still didn’t think it was fair that Sean got more time on the scooter than he did. But Sean was one of his best friends, and he did have to admit that it was cool Sean was having fun. He even decided to give him some pointers to help him balance better.
Helping Kids See Other Points of View
Perspective is a choice. You get to choose how you react to experiences – how you respond to people who are different than you or who share differing opinions to yours. You get to decide how you see the world – and therefore the impact you will have upon it.
If that’s all true, then how can you introduce perspective to children and help them consider alternate points of view? I contend there’s one simple way to do it: by modeling it with your own behavior.
Kids are always watching and always listening (except when you remind them to do their chores!). That means they learn from you even when you’re not aware you’re teaching anything. Seeing how you respond to events in your life helps shape how they will respond. Someone knocks over their milk at dinner. Do you get upset and bark, “Clean that up!” Or are you of a different mindset? “Accidents happen. Let’s clean it up and then we’ll finish our dinner.”
One way to help your children develop their points of view is by being mindful of the perspective you model in daily situations like the one above. You can also “think out loud” with your own experiences. Maybe you had a tough day at work. Talking about it and how you react to it can serve as a model for when your child has a tough day at school. When thinking out loud, consider questions like these:
• Could the situation have been different? Better? Worse?
• Did you have any control over what happened? If so, would you have done anything differently? If not, then what could you control within this situation? (Maybe the only thing you can control is your reaction!)
Perspective isn’t only important when we’re feeling bad or angry. Being able to see another point of view when things are good can be equally as important. For example, your child gets an A on his math test and is happy. He tells his friend and is kind of hurt when the friend mutters, “Yeah great. Good for you.” Why can’t he be happy for me too? your child wonders. But then he learns his friend got a D on the same test – even though he’s been working with a math tutor after school. This fact shouldn’t dampen your child’s happiness for his good grade; but it may help him understand why his friend isn’t as excited. In fact, it may also help him empathize with his friend.
Why Perspective Matters
Why does being able to look at other points of view even matter? Because the ability to see other perspectives is one of the pillars of empathy. Perspective enables us to see other people’s points of view. Empathy is the capacity to not only see but also understand another person’s point of view; to walk in their shoes. Empathy is to understand another’s feelings and respond accordingly.
When I was in 4th grade, my family moved, and I started at a new school. One of my new classmates lived with rheumatoid arthritis. I didn’t really understand what that meant. Yet I remember many of the other children in my class treated her with kindness. To this day, I remember her running stiffly across the playground, knees barely bending. Still, she was never the last one chosen for a team during recess or gym class. What the other kids already knew was our classmate dealt with pain daily. Physical activity was hard for her; many days she couldn’t come to school at all. But what 4th grader doesn’t long to run around outside? Who doesn’t want to play games with their friends? Rather than laugh or exclude her, they learned to do the opposite: they pulled her into their games regardless of whether she’d be “good” or not.
The kids could have decided our classmate was a hindrance to winning. They could have decided winning was number one. Yet many of these children were able to understand that how she did or did not help their team wasn’t that important. They chose the perspective that helping our classmate feel included as a valued member of the team was the most important thing.
There is great power in perspective. The glass is either half empty or half full. Challenges are hard (Why me?!), but they can be opportunities to grow. Choosing how you wish to see the world will determine how you look to the world. Having an open mind to other people’s perspectives will broaden your own world view. Considering other points of view will also build compassion and empathy, thus shaping your character and strengthening the quality of your relationships with others.
By Mary Ostrowski