Look for opportunities to discuss other people's feelings.
By explaining how other people would feel if a particular act occurred, you teach your child to take the perspective of others. "If you hit Irving over the head with that truck, he will probably feel very bad and cry. Do you want that to happen?"
Creating a sensitive human being takes work! It often seems a lot easier to just stop vexing and dangerous toddler behavior without explaining what consequences would follow and why, and how someone would feel as a result. Of course, tomorrow someone will probably come out with a video that claims to teach your child how to work and play well with others. But that product would be a drop in the bucket compared with the power that comes from ongoing human relationships where both mind and heart are learning together. What fills the bucket is the interaction children and adults experience: a product of basic social need.
Watch your language.
One way to bring up the perspectives of others is to ask your child about the characters in the stories you read together. Ask questions such as "How do you think this person (the character) feels? How would you feel if you were this person? What do you think the person's friends could do to help him to feel better?"
In fact, many of the current social and emotional programs that teach children about how to be a good person use games in which children adopt different perspectives. One example is the Interpersonal Cognitive Problem Solving program for elementary school children, which was developed by Professor Myrna Shure of Drexel University in Philadelphia. After the adult shows the children pictures of scenes or verbally describes scenarios such as a fight in school or a moment of frustration, the children are asked, "How do you think this person felt in the story? How might you feel if you were that person? How would you want others to react to you?" At Pennsylvania State University, Professor Mark Greenberg created another program of this type called PATHS (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) that helps children talk about their feelings. These programs have been maximally effective in reducing aggressive behavior and are training children on how to understand others' minds. They are now used widely in school programs.
Explain to your child that there are causes for people's feelings.
Research by Professor Judy Dunn and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University examined the conversations that fifty 33-month-old children had in their homes with their mothers about feelings and about what causes them. For example, a mother might say, "You broke my glass (the cause) and that makes me sad (the outcome)." Such conversations were just what Professor Dunn and her colleagues looked for in the parent-child dialogues.
She found that at 40 months, children differed widely in their appreciation of emotions and other minds. The results of this study tell us that talk about emotions and what causes emotions impacts children's developing theory of mind. Hearing an explanation for others' behavior does at least two things. It may help stunt the natural anger that arises when you are thwarted so you can respond more constructively. It may also help you look for such mitigating explanations on your own in future altercations. And these differences, in turn, will influence how well children interact with their peers and teachers.