In part I of this three-part series, we wrote about psychologist Martin Seligman's suggestions for improving your child's social skills by teaching her how to slow down her thinking by replacing "hot thoughts" with "cool thoughts."
In his book, The Optimistic Child, Seligman also offers suggestions for showing your child how to walk in someone else's shoes -- a valuable skill that can serve her throughout life -- and that can help her in school-yard conflicts now.
Explain to your child that before we can decide how to handle a problem we're having with someone else, we need to understand what that person was thinking and why she acted the way she did.
There are several things we can do to find out how someone else is feeling.
- We can look at their faces for clues. Do they look angry, embarrassed, afraid or defiant? What might each look tell you about the way the person is acting? If your child got pushed at the drinking fountain and got her face wet, before reacting, she might look at the expression on the face of the person who pushed her. What would an embarrassed look tell her? What would a defiant look tell her?
- We can ask the other person a question. If your daughter walks into the library and sees two of her friends laughing, she might have a "hot thought" and assume they are laughing at her. (See Help Your Child Learn Social Skill Part I.) She might respond by withdrawing, leaving the room, feeling hurt, etc. Or, she might just ask them what they're laughing at. And she might be surprised at the answer.
- We can imagine how we would feel and act if we were in their shoes. When your child tells you a problem she is having with a friend or classmate, ask her to pretend she is the other person. What might that person be feeling and thinking?
Here are some exercises Seligman gives for practicing walking in someone else's shoes.
Read the following story, taken from Seligman's book, to your child. Or make one up that may be closer to her life situation -- and ask her to answer the questions at the end.
"Kelly is just about to start the sixth grade. She and her friend Jody decide to get short haircuts. Just as they are walking out of the hair salon, they run into their friend, Eric. Eric tells Jody that he likes her haircut. All Eric says to Kelly is, 'How are you doing?' Kelly gets annoyed and doesn't say anything back to Eric. Jody tells Kelly that she thinks her haircut looks great, but Kelly doesn't say a word for the whole walk home. Jody is supposed to call Kelly later that night, but she doesn't.
Why did Kelly get mad? What was she thinking?
Why did Eric say he liked Jody's haircut but didn't say anything about Kelly's? What was he thinking?
Why didn't Jody call Kelly? What was she thinking?"
You can also use conflicts that arise between the two of you or between siblings to sharpen your child's ability to see through another's eyes. When a conflict arises, try reversing roles. Instead of each of you arguing your own side, try reversing roles and arguing the other person's side. This kind of exercise can lead to greater understanding on both sides and is more likely to result in a plan or compromise that both parties can accept.
Copyright Ruth Mason, 2000