Perspective taking skills are rooted in a cognitive skill called, “Theory of Mind.” A formal definition of Theory of Mind is, “an understanding of other people’s mental states” (their thoughts, feelings, desires, motivations, intentions). People use this information tomake sense of other people’s behavior, predict what people may do or say next, and to think about one’s own social behavior and adjust it accordingly. Theory of Mind deficits may result in difficulties with: being sensitive to other people’s feelings, taking into account background knowledge, reading the listener’s interest level in conversation, detecting a speaker’s hidden meaning, anticipating what others think of one’s own social behaviors, and understanding “unwritten” social rules.

The foundations of Theory of Mind skills develop gradually from infancy until 6-7 years of age.The most basic level is referred to as understanding “First-order False beliefs.”This means a child can understand one person’s belief about something.“Second-order False beliefs” refer to understanding one person’s belief about another person’s belief.Finally, “Higher order False beliefs” refer to understanding what people think that others think about their thoughts.

Parallel to the development of basic perspective taking skills throughout childhood, a child is undergoing the development of empathetic thinking as well. Empathetic thinking is also a demonstration of perspective taking ability.There are 5 stages of development:

Stage I:Global Empathy- During 1st year of life, babies cannot distinguish between their own discomfort or that of another child, so they may cry when they hear another child crying.

Stage II:Egocentric Empathy – Around age 1, children understand another person’s discomfort is not their own – may show great concern for the person who is crying.

Stage III:Emotional Empathy – 2-3 years of age may identify the source of discomfort for another person-may offer to help or ask a question

Stage IV:Cognitive Empathy – By about age 6, a neurotypical child can see things from another’s perspective, so there is a noticeable increase in their efforts to provide comfort, support and to try to help and fix the problem.

Stage V:Abstract Empathy – By ages 10-12, a child can extend sympathy beyond people they know to more global situations such as world hunger, war victims, homelessness, etc.

Perspective taking skills relate to pragmatic development in that they assist children to be able to demonstrate empathy and sensitivity in friendships, interpret and react to non-verbal cues, predict other people’s reactions to one’s own social behaviors, and increase self-awareness of interaction skills. Fostering perspective taking abilities is a critical component of social language programming and intervention.

The Teaching Ideas section under this Perspective Taking skills page contains ideas for you to explore and PDF documents you can download and use. Check back often to find new ideas!

© Jill D. Kuzma, Minneapolis MN, 2008. All Rights Reserved.
Neither this document nor its concept may be duplicated, distributed, or re-published in any format without written permission from the author/owner.