3 to 4 by Susan Miller

Owen and Adam, four-year-old best friends, argue over their conflicting ideas of how to proceed with their dinosaur play. Finally, Owen says, "I have a plan. Let's use them in the sandbox. We can add your blocks too. Is it a deal?" As a four-year-old, he is learning to weigh ideas. His idea is very important to him. However, by asking Adam if "it's a deal," he's aware that his friend may or may not agree with the plan. He indicates that Adam's point of view needs to be considered, also. Four-year-olds are starting to use their negotiation skills to solve problems and play more cooperatively.

On the other hand, it can be hard for a pair of best friends like Owen and Adam to include a third child in their friendship. Still sharpening their social skills while trying to simultaneously consider the perspectives of several children can prove to be too overwhelming for some fours. They often end up excluding the third child and his ideas, much to the child's dismay.

Four-year-olds frequently enjoy playing with silly words and teasing each other. Two carpool friends laugh and comfortably play a teasing game with each other's names as they call out, "Hi, Benny Penny!" "Good-bye, Tracy Lacey!" However, it is not fun when three-year-old Celine pulls a doll away from Becky. She cries, and Celine teases her by saying, "Baby, baby, baby." Celine is not able to understand Becky's point of view at all. Becky thinks because she is holding the doll that it is hers. Besides, Celine's grabbing action frightens Becky and makes her cry. Being called a "baby" hurts her feelings. Still very egocentric, Celine ignores Becky and plays with the doll now in her possession.

Blake howls with frustration because his naptime blanket is stuck under a chair. Karen, a three-year-old, walks right by him. Although she appears to ignore his plight, she is not necessarily being unkind. Not always able to focus on feelings or a point of view other than their own, threes sometimes don't know what to do to help another in trouble. It can also be the case that they just simply don't feel responsible for the problem. They often assume that an adult will solve the problem of a child in distress. Karen's teacher, Miss Geehan, helps focus her thinking by asking, "How do you think Blake is feeling? What could we do?" She then models a helping behavior by gently lifting the chair leg and freeing the blanket.

By providing preschoolers with lots of experiences interacting with playmates during pretend play, you will help them begin to see that various friends can have different viewpoints about the same items or situations.

What You Can Do

  • Help head off potential problems by anticipating and planning for them. For example, because it is often difficult for preschoolers to understand other children's feelings about sharing their favorite toys, it might be sensible to have a special time or area to share and talk about them.
  • Invite a child to identify and talk about various feelings and points of view. Discuss how he feels about a situation. How does he think others might feel? How do their feelings seem to affect each other? Why?
  • Share books that focus on several points of view. For instance, read how some delightful frogs learn from each other in Hop Jump by Ellen Walsh (Harcourt, 1996; $6). Act out the many ways they learned to dance, hop, leap, and jump. Or share the children's classic by Rosemary Wells (Dial, 1999; $15.99). No one pays any attention to the little mouse, Nora. How do the children think she is feeling? Can they relate to Nora's plight?
Stage by Stage
  • Threes are not always able to focus on a point of view other than their own.
  • Fours are learning to weigh ideas. Their own ideas are very important to them.
  • It can be difficult for threes and fours to consider other points of view since they are still in the process of sharpening their social skills.

5 to 6 by Ellen Booth Church

I See What You Mean

Cherisha is thrilled to report to everyone who will listen, "Mommy has a baby in her tummy." Elizabeth, less than impressed, replies, "Who cares! Anyway, it's a baby WHAT?" With a look of surprise and concern Cherisha runs to Ms. Frasier for comfort. Gently and privately, the teacher explains that Elizabeth is upset because her Mommy is sick and YES Cherisha's Mom is going to have a baby girl.
Five- and six-year-olds are beginning to understand that not everyone feels the same way they do about events or things. As kindergartners move out of the egocentric stage of development in which their view of the world is the only view, they discover that there are many points of view about everything. What a surprise! Part of this is a growing awareness that the viewpoints of others are affected by their experiences and emotions. What is a "happy thing" to one child might be upsetting to others. Cherisha is surprised that her happy news was upsetting to Elizabeth. But then Cherisha learns from her teacher the reason for Elizabeth's response and is mature enough to integrate the information into an understanding of her point of view.

Fives and sixes are for the first time in their development at a stage where they are able to "put themselves in someone else's shoes" and begin to understand how someone else might feel. While Cherisha might have wanted Elizabeth to be happy too, she also knew that it was best to let her have her feelings and not tell Elizabeth the news again. The maturing awareness that is developing at this stage helps children become less attached to how others respond to them and to gradually be more independent.

"I Hear YOU!"

By five and six, children are invested in forming relationships. At this stage, they want to make friends and keep them. Part of their growing knowledge of friendship is the importance of understanding others. Because of this, kindergartners are more willing than ever before to listen to others, and to reflect on their opinions. You probably have seen these skills emerging in your group meetings. By this point in the year, most kindergartners are able to listen and attend to others as they share their thoughts, to appreciate their opinions, and even integrate those opinions into their work and play. This is a crucial point in development. Children are able to combine their longer attention span with their ability to self-monitor their actions. This creates a deepening ability to understand the opinions of others. At this stage, children are able to create space for others' ideas and emotions without feeling as though they have to give up their own!

Although five- and six-year-olds are becoming perceptive of others' points of view, it doesn't mean that they always are considerate. The operative word here is becoming. Kindergartners are active and a bit fickle. It is normal for them to impress you one day with their compassionate understanding and mature negotiations and the next day "floor" you with their self-focused need to be right. Their own needs and opinions often come first, and then they can listen to others. Remember: Fives and sixes still need your wise council to suggest and structure the listening and reflection time needed to appreciate others' points of view.

What You Can Do:

  • Share your own point of view about things. Explain why. Invite other adults to visit and share theirs. The more viewpoints children are exposed to, the greater their worldview.
  • Create an environment that is accepting of many points of view. This can be demonstrated in very simple ways, including incorporating music and art from around the world in your program.
  • Share books from different cultures that present different viewpoints. Many familiar stories such as "Little Red Riding Hood" have been told in different cultures. Children can hear the viewpoint of the culture reflected in the different versions of the story.
Stage by Stage
  • Fives and sixes are learning that not everyone shares their personal points of view.
  • Children are learning that there are varying points of view about most issues.
  • At this stage, children are developing the capacity to put themselves in someone else's shoes and appreciate their viewpoints.