Young children whose mothers talk with them about other people’s thoughts and feelings tend to be better at taking another person’s perspective than other children of the same age, according to researchers from the University of Western Australia.
“Parents who frequently put themselves in someone else’s shoes in conversations with their children make it more likely their children will be able to do the same,” said Brad Farrant, postdoctoral fellow at the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and lead author of the study.
In the two-year study, which involved more than 120 children between the ages of 4 and 6, researchers looked at how parents interact with their children to learn more about how people develop the ability to take another’s perspective.
The children completed tasks designed to assess their language skills, their ability to infer others’ beliefs and predict others’ behavior, and their ability to shift between different perspectives. Mothers then reported on the types of language they used with their children.
The researchers found that mothers who talked more often and in greater detail about people’s thoughts and feelings, such as commenting on how another person might react to a particular situation, as well as their own feelings about the topic, had children with better language skills and better perspective-taking skills.
This suggests that mothers influence their children’s language ability and cognitive flexibility, which in turn appears to influence their development of theory of mind, a key component in learning to take another’s perspective, the researchers said.
“Solving the many challenges that the world faces today requires us all to get better at taking the perspective of other people,” Farrant said.
The new research was published in the journal Child Development.