Part 3: Take (and Give) a New Perspective
Chapter 10 of Unconditional Parenting covers the idea of understanding a child’s perspective, and helping the child understand others’ perspectives, especially as it relates to the moral development of our child.
To do so is to recast various ideas that are discussed in other parenting books. For example, ‘boundaries’ and ‘limits’ are usually thought of as restrictions that adults impose on children. But shouldn’t our goal be for the children to refrain from doing certain things not because we’ve forbidden them, but just because they’re wrong? The limits on kids’ behavior, in other words, should be experienced as intrinsic to the situation. We want them to ask ‘How will doing x make that other kid feel?’- not ‘Am I allowed to do x?” or ‘Will I get in trouble for doing x?’ (191)
The author recognizes how hard this is and how much work this will take. But, he points out that kids are typically really good at caring for others. To do this, he gives the following suggestions:
1. Care about them.
2. Show them how a moral person lives.
3. Let them practice. Give children lots of opportunities to help and care for others. It can start so early too!
4. Talk with them. Talk about values. Talk about how they feel when someone does x to them, and then help them to try imagine what a person feels when they do x to another. Talking about this over and over and over helps the children to learn to empathize with someone else. Talk to them about why they can’t do something (from the perspective of how it affects another person). I like this one a lot.
Perspective taking is actually probably difficult for a lot of us as adults, at least it can be for me. He gives a good example of this that hits home because of the religious camp that I’m from:
Or consider a different kind of example. While many people dismiss those with whom they disagree (‘How can she hold that position on abortion!’), those accustomed to perspective taking tend to turn an exclamation point into a question mark (‘How can she hold that position on abortion? What experiences, assumptions, or underlying values have led her to a view so different from my own?”). That effort to step outside oneself is what we should try to cultivate in our kids (p. 202).
I think this is forefront in my mind because with having kids very close in age, Aly and Asante tend to get in a lot of arguments. I’m eager to get to the place where they can deal with things on their own, but I know that in order to do that, I have to help them build some foundation of how to talk to others, discussing feelings, and understand where the other person is coming from. We talk this one to death, and although those two are only 2.5 and almost 4, we have actually seen a lot of improvement. They ask each other questions before yelling at each other about a toy (sometimes), they are quick to empathize, and sometimes apologize or cry because they have hurt the others’ feelings. Not all the time, not even most of the time, but it’s about baby steps and developmental maturity.