Early Child Development: Understanding Other Points of View Starts With Mom


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Talking to young children about other people’s feelings improves perspective-taking ability: Photo by Robert Whitehead

For mothers of young children, what you say matters more than how it you say it. That’s the conclusion of researchers from the University of Western Australia in a report entitled “Language, Cognitive Flexibility, and Explicit False Belief Understanding: Longitudinal Analysis in Typical Development and Specific Language Impairment.” Lead researcher Dr. Brad Farrant states that how a child learns to take another person’s perspective is related to how the child’s mother speaks to him or her in early childhood.

Early Psychological Development: Understanding Other People’s Feelings

According to Dr. Farrant’s research, the way mothers talk to their children, particularly young children, can influence the child’s ability to understand other points of view. The research also indicated that mothers who talk about the thoughts, feelings and opinions of other people to their children are a major source of perspective-taking development. The benefit to children is greatest when the children are still developing language skills and understanding.

Children who had average language skills and above were able to develop perspective-taking behavior more quickly than children with underdeveloped language skills. Decoded Science asked Dr. Farrant whether lesser-developed language skills can be caught up to the average. He responded,

We did not address this question in the study but I have just done some preliminary analyses and the children with delayed language still have significantly lower perspective-taking scores (explicit false belief) in the second year of the study. Of course it is still possible that these children catch-up at a later time.

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