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The Practice of Perspective-Taking

Imagine this scenario: you are having dinner with your family and your partner or child is upset about something that happened during the day. As they tell their story, you instinctively suggest they try to see things from the other person's point of view. However, this only leads to more conflict and frustration. They might say things like, " What do you mean from their side?! Why are you taking their side?! I'm the one who was wronged!" In the heat of the moment, it's difficult for people to see things from another person's perspective. By simply suggesting they see things differently, our loved ones may feel like their feelings are being invalidated and that you don't understand them.

Perspective-taking is HARD. It’s a skill that requires daily practice and mindful discussions. How we see the world is how we approach the world. How we see the world is how we react to those around us.

There are countless sayings regarding perception and perspective-taking, such as “put yourself in their shoes,” “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and “the grass is always greener on the other side.” As humans, we can observe things happening around us and have an ENTIRELY different point of view of how something transpired. Facts to one person can be seen as fiction to another.

As a therapist, my role is to understand and empathize with my clients’ perspectives and their unique approach towards the world that is shaped by their beliefs and experiences. . There are certainly times when (being that I’m only human), I want to tell someone they made a mistake, their opinions are wrong, or they are misinformed. However, when we do this, people often cling even more strongly to their opinions and positions and “dig their heels in.”

Here are some ways to teach your kids to be more skilled perspective-takers:

Expose them to media where they show multiple sides of a story: Many TV shows and books portray a story from different viewpoints, and these can be interesting to discuss as a family. Try pausing shows in the middle to have everyone guess what the other characters were experiencing, thinking, or feeling. This can be a fun and engaging way to help your children develop their perspective-taking skills. (Here are some examples for more mature teens/tweens:, for younger kids, try books like “The Day the Crayons Quit”; “What Would Danny Do?” and “What Would Darla Do?”)

Practice Perspective-Taking on your own: When our children or partners tell us stories about their day, pause and reserve judgment. Remember that we might not always agree with their reasoning, and that’s okay. By listening and considering their point of view first, we can better understand their perspective and build stronger relationships with them.

The “What” and “Why”: From a behavioral perspective, people behave in certain ways for a reason, whether it’s a learned behavior, to avoid discomfort, to obtain something (or get out of something), or to meet a need. Be curious as to what someone might want to get or why they might be engaging in that behavior. This can help us gain insight into how to react and possible alternative responses.

Model neutrality: Try phrases like: “I wonder…” or “That’s interesting…” or “What did you think about…?” to encourage others to take a step back and think through situations before making judgments or assumptions.

Our experiences, exposures, and education can shape and color our perception of the world. The more we broaden our view and consider how others think and feel, the more we are able to grasp what others are going through. When we are able to take a step back and see something from another person’s point of view, we immediately have more patience for them, more understanding, and more empathy.

Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it.” ― Irving Berlin


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