7 Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs: On Perspective Taking

I’ve been quiet on the blog as I went on a self-declared blog-liday. Well it was June and we’ve been busy with the kids, exploring places and having fun.

I also took some time to read a book called Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky. In this post, I’ll be focusing on skill no.2 — perspective taking.

Perspective taking is all about understanding that other people may think differently from us, and the ability to read accurately the intentions of others. It’s about empathy, but also about making sense of our own and others’ experiences. Being able to understand different perspectives helps us to adjust behaviour according to expectations (of teachers for example, or other peers). It also has a link to reducing aggressive behaviour, since “children who can understand others have less of a need to strike or hurt others.

Why is it so important?

It’s learning that helps children not only understand what goes on in other people’s thoughts and minds, but it also shapes their memories for events, [and] it helps them to predict what will happen in the future. – Ross Thompson

If we want to be successful and deal with other people, [we need] to understand the people around us — particularly what’s going on in their minds. – Alison Gopnik

Galinsky listed a few suggestions on how we can help our kids grow their sense of others’ feelings, and here are a few that particularly spoke to me.

1. Practice what we preach

We need to be able to understand other people’s point of view and feelings first. Then we would be in a better position to guide our kids.

2. Help children connect with others

In today’s academic arms race culture, we race from one tuition class to another, and often neglect being with people and social activities for our young. This book reminds us of the essential-ness of human connection, and how it benefits our sense of well-being. We all need to be inter-dependent and develop trusting relationships, not just independence.

3. Help our children feel known and understood

Listen to them, tune in to their feelings, get down to their level, ask them about what they feel about things (what did you enjoy/not enjoy about school today?)

It’s easy to get caught up in the busy-ness of daily life. I do too, and sometimes my son has to call me away “mummy, stop looking at your phone and look at me!”

It is important that we affirm them when they are asking for some attention and acknowledgement. It doesn’t mean dropping everything else straightaway. But it will make a difference if we intentionally tune in at different points of the day.

4. Talk about feelings

Very often we feel we can’t burden our kids with our feelings, and so we put them aside. But it’s okay to mention that you’ve had a hard day, and just need some time to yourself to recover. Galinsky also suggests reminding the kids it’s not their fault, as some children can be quick to assume it is.

5. Use other-oriented discipline

When we focus on disciplining the wrong-doer, and neglect asking the ‘victim’ how he/she feels, is she okay etc, the wrong-doer doesn’t learn about the consequences of his actions upon the victim. Point out the consequence, the feelings, the pain, and it’s likely that the child will get the message that his actions can hurt others, and that hurting others is undesirable.

But research also shows that when this discipline gets tampered with harsh disciplinary actions, the child is also less likely to learn to be more considerate of others. For some reason, harshness hinders their ability to learn from the incident.

What a reminder to us all to make use of everyday teaching moments to teach our children to see and respect the perspectives and feelings of others.

7 essential skills every child needs

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Little Lessons: Raising empathic children

This youtube video about empathy explains the concept of empathy really well, and humorously too. It mentions that the four qualities of empathy are:

  1. perspective taking
  2. staying out of judgment
  3. recognising emotion in other people
  4. communicating that emotion

I think more often than not, I end up being a bit like the goat – taking comfort in my own safety net, avoiding making myself vulnerable, and silver-lining other people’s dark clouds.

Empathy is a key ingredient for success in all aspects of life, especially inter-personal relationships. But what really is empathy? This article on the 6 habits of highly empathic people on the Greater Good website defines it as:

empathy - a definition

I was convicted about three things from reading that article:

1) I should get out of my comfort zone and develop greater curiosity about people, especially those who are very different from me. Sometimes I allow fear to hold me back from striking up a proper conversation, and after a few steps forward I tend to retreat.

2) Seek to understand instead of judge.

3) Listen wholeheartedly, and avoid dishing out quick solutions and advice.

As I work on honing my empathic skills, I also hope to build that in my children.

Children who are empathic tend to do better in school and in social situations. Empathy also reduces aggression and is seen as the solution to bullying and other anti-social behaviour, as evidenced by Roots of Empathy, an evidence-based classroom program that has shown significant results in reducing levels of aggression among school children while raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. Simply by allowing school children to observe the growth and development of an infant over an entire school year.

It’s definitely a good skill when it comes to conflict resolution. Vera and JJ now fight multiple times a week. Over the skate scooter, over who gets the last chocolate or biscuit, over who pushes the lift buttons… Anything and everything is a potential minefield.

I recently noticed that Vera shows a much greater level of empathy to baby J than to JJ. Whenever baby J cries, she would hurry over to him, coo at him, and offer him his soother or rock him if he’s on his rocker. She even tries to read his cries, like “you’re hungry huh…” or “you want your pacifier, is it?”

With JJ, it’s a different story. She’s inconsistent towards him – at times deciphering his wants and needs and helping him address those; at times ignoring him altogether.

I’ve praised and acknowledged her whenever she demonstrates some level of goodwill and kindness towards her brother. And vice versa with JJ. But on some days, both are unable to give in, JJ tries to grab something or unknowingly pushes Vera too roughly, and BOOM, tearfest.

I’ve had to step in and play mediator at least three times the last week. (I usually try to let big sister negotiate with him on her own, but I do step in when things go downhill.) I would bend down, eye to eye with the perpetrator or the person who looks most hurt at the moment (read: bawling loudly), and ask for a brief description of what happened. Whodoneit usually doesn’t matter to me as I want them to recognise that both are at fault.

Both have been selfish. Both have done wrong.

Sometimes (when I remember to), I would ask big sister and JJ this question: “How do you think (the other) feels after you pushed him / shouted at him / took his toy?”

“Sad” come the usual reply. Or “angry.” Sometimes…Silence.

Thankfully, there are ways to help our little ones develop and learn empathy. Here are some that I try to practise at home regularly:

Empathise with your child – acknowledge their emotions; don’t belittle them. “I know you really want to tie your laces yourself.” Or “Are you feeling angry because it was your turn to press the lift button but little brother pressed it instead?” Let them know that it isn’t wrong to feel upset, rejected, lonely, or afraid. But teach them to express these big emotions verbally, and give them ideas to cheer themselves up such as hugging their lovey or playing with their favourite toy.

Give them opportunities to hear each other out. Practise talking about your emotions in front of them too.

Read books about feelings such as My Many Coloured Days by Dr Seuss and The Very Cranky Bear.

Use pretend play – We’ve been discovering the world of pretend play lately, and I find it’s really useful for exploring even the most difficult, hard-to-speak-about emotions. Any soft toy can take on an identity and personality of its own so be creative and dramatic!

Last but not least, kids learn the most by how they’ve been treated. By us, the parents. When they are upset, cranky, or frightened, do we shut them out or scold them for feeling those emotions? This is a reminder for myself too, and I hope we learn to treat their feelings with care, so that they too can grow to be caring, sensitive, and empathic individuals.

Do you have a suggestion on how to encourage empathy in our children? I would love to hear your views and experience.

This is week 15 of the Little Lessons series, which runs on the blog every Thursday. Do grab our badge and link up your little lessons / learning activities below!

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Harness the power of games to bond with your children

Today, I’m delighted to introduce our games-queen, Pamela Tan. Pamela is a friend and fellow mum-blogger. She’s got some great ideas on how to harness the power of board games to teach our children life-skills and encourage positive character traits through doing what they love best – PLAY!

Let’s hear what her secrets are…

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1) Why are games good for kids?

Games are generally more interactive, and it’s a great way to foster family bonding. Good games also contain elements of choice and strategy, and is not just about luck. Even games meant for a three year old have strategy elements present.

Most games for young kids only require 10 – 15 minutes per game, so it’s very easy to clock game-play time every day. It keeps them happy and entertained. It’s not overly-stimulating, compared to a trip to the playground, and it’s okay to schedule game-time before bedtime.

Playing good, age-suitable games can also help foster these positive character traits:

  • Turn taking and patience – The kids learn that to play a game, they HAVE TO take turns. And by learning to wait for their turn, they acquire patience – an important life-skill.
  • Ability to listen to instructions
  • Playing by the rules – Kids learn that in order to play a game properly, they have to play it by the rules and not break the rules because “they feel like it”.

When a child is first introduced to card or board games, he may wish to play by his own rules. This should only be allowed at the beginning, and especially for very young children (2 – 3 years). But once the child is familiar with the idea of playing games and following instructions and rules, then they should be taught how to play the game by its proper rules.

2) How do you encourage your kids to play?

Kids naturally love to play! The mere mention of the word ‘play’ or ‘games’ is enough to spark off their excitement.

For us, we don’t allow the kids to watch TV during the weekdays so our average weekday evening routine is dinner, followed by board games, then reading, then bedtime.

3) Do kids exhibit any negative behaviour during game-time? How do you deal with it?

These things definitely happen. Here are some common negative behavioural traits that may arise:

  • The sore loser – He cries when he loses or throws tantrums when the game doesn’t go his way.

How to deal with it: Teach them that it’s okay to lose; you just have to try again, and try harder. Learn from past experience, pay more attention, try a different strategy, or employ better methodology (for example, instead of holding 10 cards, try focusing on lesser cards and try to find a match). Encourage them to focus on having fun with friends, rather than winning. Tell them that if they enjoyed playing the game, then they’ve also won.

  • The cocky winner – He says “Aha! I’m better than you!” when he wins.

How to deal with it: Teach them that it is not gracious to behave like that when they win. We ask, “Would you like it if you lost, and someone else said that to you? No, right?” So we ask them to shake hands and say “Thank you for the game. Better luck next time.”

  • The rule-breaker – He tries to change the rules to fit his own needs.

How to deal with it: Explain the importance of playing by standard rules, so that everyone follows the same rules and it’s fair. If he insists on making the rules easier for himself, then it will have to apply to everyone else too. Games can be customised and simplified, but the rules must be applied across the board, and not softened or bent over just because a child insists on it.

4) What inspired you to start your own games business?

I’m a boardgames lover myself, and I played a lot in my youth and before I had kids. One of the biggest problems about playing boardgames is that you need to find other players. So when I had my first child, I hatched a plan to train all my kids to play boardgames so that I’d never have to worry about looking for players again. So when I was pregnant with Isaac, I started researching online for good games suitable for young kids.

When Isaac was 17 months old, we started playing Go Away, Monster, a boardgame meant for 3 year-olds and above. By 18 months, he could play it by its proper rules, wait for his turn and listen to instructions.

During Chinese New Year that year, we brought some games with us when we went visiting. The games kept Isaac occupied and he had a good time playing them the whole day. Our relatives and friends were amazed that an 18-month-old toddler could play board games. Everyone started asking me where I bought the games from, and all expressed disappointment when they found out that the games were not available in Singapore. That was when I started thinking about importing games to sell here.

5) What’s special about the games that My First Games offer?

There are hundreds of new games published every year. Because we believe in only selecting the best games, we do our due diligence by reading the reviews, viewing the demo-videos, and we try our best to personally test out the games ourselves before deciding to carry it. So, practically each game that we sell carries our stamp of approval.

We have some simple criteria in choosing our games:

  • Should be easy to learn – with simple rules, and preferably not too many rules.
  • Game-play time should be fairly short – most of the games we carry can be played between 5 minutes to under an hour.
  • Should offer choice and strategy and/or hone motor skills

As we try to play the games ourselves with our kids and families, we know our games well and we are able to make good suggestions for buyers. Drop us an email to request for recommendations! 🙂

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Pamela Tan is a boardgames enthusiast with a personal collection of more than 300 boardgames. She is a mother of three young children, aged between 2 – 5 years old. Through playing boardgames with her oldest son, she discovered that they are an excellent educational tool. With an aim to inspire others to learn through play, Pamela started www.MyFirstGames.sg to retail and distribute child-friendly games in Singapore.

Disclaimer: No compensation was received for writing this post.

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