Activities and Videos to Teach Theory of Mind and Perspective Taking Skills to Children
Updated: Sep 30, 2022
In this blog post, I'll share 16 videos, research about theory of mind, and perspective taking skills, and then some activities that will help your children or students take someone else's point of view and help spark interesting discussions in your homes, classrooms, or counseling offices.
If you want to learn more about why it is so important to teach perspective-taking skills to your children, check out this blog post. And if you want to check out some books to teach perspective taking skills, head on over to this blog post where I share 31 picture books on theory of mind!
Early Perspective-Taking Skills
Before children develop theory of mind skills, they need to learn to pay attention to other people (Baron-Cohen, 1991). A key example of this is joint attention or shared attention. When I'm doing a social skills observation on a student, I look for different types of attention and play exhibited.
Joint attention is when attention is "overtly focused by two or more people on the same object, person, or action at the same time, with each being aware of the other’s interest" (APA, n.d.). This is an important developmental tool. Infants around 9 months old start to follow their parents’ gaze and begin to copy what their caregivers are doing.
According to Ruhl (2020), copying other people, and intentionality or "knowing that people act according to the things they want" is also another precursor skill to the development of theory of mind.
Imaginary and make-believe play, like pretending to be someone else (a chef in their play-kitchen, a race car driver outside with their bicycle, or a veterinarian with their stuffed animals and doctor's play-kit) is a great precursor skill for children learning perspective taking skills!
When do Children Develop Perspective Taking Skills?
According to research, children between the ages of 4-5 can really start to think about other people's thoughts and feelings. There are developmental steps that theory of mind typically develops. Children usually start with understanding wanting, then thinking, then the idea that "seeing leads to knowing," false-beliefs, and lastly, hidden feelings (Wellman, 2004; Wellman & Peterson, 2011, as cited in Ruhl, 2020). There is some variation in this however, as Ruhl (2020) notes that "cultural importance plays a role in determining the specific order in which these five milestones are cemented into the mind of a toddler."
Want a free printable dice rolling activity to work on perspective taking skills with kids?
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Videos to Help Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Younger Children
This list of 11 videos are a good way to begin lessons or discussions about perspective taking, empathy, and theory of mind skills for elementary aged students.
This is a great social-emotional learning video about empathy that’s just under 5 minutes long. This video goes over three main topics: 1) What is empathy? 2) Why is empathy important? And 3) How can you practice empathy with others? I like the definition they give of empathy and the examples they give to help you put yourself in someone else’s shoes. They also give 4 tips to start practicing empathy by 1) Paying attention to other people’s feelings by listening to people’s words and asking how someone is feeling. 2) Thinking before you say or do something. And 3) Realize that everyone is different. This is a great concept to teach kids! All people have different thoughts and feelings – even about the same thing. It’s what makes the world a great place to be! 4) Stand up for others.
Mark Ruffalo and Murray talk about empathy in this short clip from Sesame Street. This cute and silly video is under 3 minutes long and it’s a great intro to empathy, or understanding how others feel, for younger kids. They end by dancing the dance of happiness – which would be a great brain break!
First of all, I LOVE Flocabulary. If you haven’t checked them out yet, what are you waiting for!? Flocabulary has a library of songs, videos and activities for K-12 online learning. You can’t go wrong with this hip hop song about empathy! I love how the video shows the lyrics, too.
Start with Sorry is a read-along story that’s about 8 minutes long about siblings Luna and Asher who like to draw and color together. Luna wants to draw awesome pictures like her older brother Asher, but she becomes upset and jealous when she compares her work to Asher’s. Luna began feeling mad, and started acting out, which made her brother Asher feel sad. Their Mom helps them solve the problem. This is also a good book to review when teaching children how to apologize.
This is a short animated video that is under 2 minutes long that explores the concept of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. I think it’d be a great companion to the book Stand in My Shoes by Bob Sornson. I can also see some imaginative and creative art projects about shoes coming out of this video!
This is a fun short one minute video that gives tips when someone seems nervous to look for clues by watching and listening, and ask people how they feel. Then, think about a time you felt that way.
Put yourself in someone else's shoes By Social Toolbox is a 6 minute video for kids that would be a good introduction to perspective taking. It talks about imagining that you are the other person to help put yourself in their shoes. There are some examples to think about so you can pause the video and discuss with your students. The speed is a little slower paced and they report it is “suitable for a wide variety of learners including children with special needs, gifted, twice-exceptional, autistic and other learners.” Part two includes a quiz that can be paused and discussed.
This is an 11 minute video by author, Sarah Giles. This video includes a lesson with helpful questions for kids, as well as an excerpt from Gile’s chapter book Fitting Out: The Friendship Experiment.
This is a 4 and a half minute video that talks about having an open mind to have healthy relationships with others. The worksheet they reference can be found here. (Go to Lesson 10: Student Handout Grades K-2.) I really like the MindUP curriculum and they have lots of cool supporting resources at The Beach Cities Health District site.
This is a 4 and a half minute video that talks about having good relationships with others by having an open mind. They show the classic duck/rabbit picture and then talks about the fact that other people see things differently, and that’s okay. They talk about listening to each other to help our brains grow. They do reference a worksheet, which can be found here. (Go to Lesson 10: Student Handout Grades 3-5.) I really like the MindUP curriculum and they have lots of cool supporting resources at The Beach Cities Health District site.
This is a 2 minute video that reviews the definition for both empathy and perspective taking.
Perspective Taking Videos for Older Students
This list of 5 videos are a good way to begin lessons or discussions about perspective taking, empathy, and theory of mind skills for middle school students.
This is a 3 minute video that describes our perspectives as “the glasses we see the world through.” This video uses a lot of higher-level vocabulary (like reframing to change the way you perceive a situation) so it is definitely a video for more advanced and older students.
This is a 3 minute video which talks about perspective taking as when one is able to see a situation from the viewpoint of another, understanding their feelings, intentions, thoughts, or a view of a particular situation.” I like how they emphasize that it means you don’t have to agree with the other person’s point of view, but there is still understanding and empathy. They use the classic duck/rabbit picture, which I think is a great warmup for a perspective taking lesson. They also give a helpful example of players in a football field, having different perspectives of the game. I like how they also take a macro-lens on perspective taking when they note that by acknowledging that there are many ways to see the world, so perspective taking is valuable to improve race relations and advocate for social justice causes.
This is a short animated video that is under 3 minutes long about paying attention to others, as an opening to true compassion. This is a story about noticing a woman who works at a corner store. I love the line “I realized how much of a person we missed when we don’t pay attention.” The message is that compassion can be learned because it is a natural result that comes from paying attention.
In this 5 minute video, a ten year old kid named Cole, who talks about his best friend Steven, a 44 year old man with Autism. It’s an awesome story and Cole is funny and a great storyteller! I can’t wait to see what he does in this world when he grows up.
Clutch, Neutral, Cringey - The Brochachos [Perspective-Taking Social Skills] By ADHD Dude is a funny 3 minute animated video about three friends eating in a food court. Ace started dancing on the table, and people started having cringy thoughts. This video breaks down the thoughts people have about others as: clutch, neutral, or cringey. (Clutch thoughts are when people are comfortable and want to be around you. Neutral is you’re aware of others but not actively thinking of them, and cringey is another word for unexpected or uncomfortable.
I usually also share these optical illusion cards
Activities to Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Children
Since I think perspective taking is such an important skill to teach children, I have a bunch of incredible activities. You could buy them each individually, or get them at a great discount in this growing bundle!
Activities to Teach Perspective Taking Skills to Children
Perspective taking is such an important skill to teach children, I have a bunch of incredible activities for you to work on this lagging skill with kids. You could buy each resource individually, or get them at a great discount in either of these growing bundles!
The Social Skills Treasury Growing Bundle has three sets dedicated to perspective taking, along with resources targeting sportsmanship, kindness and caring, and self-control. Students will learn what perspective taking is while playing games, reading, writing, and doing other activities while practicing their perspective taking skills! Lock in the price today, as new resources are added at no additional cost to you, and the cost goes up as new resources are added.
Included in All Social Skills Treasury Sets: ✨
✔ S.M.A.R.T. IEP and Treatment Plan Objectives for Easy Goal Writing!
✔ Editable Letter to Families About the Topic
✔ Data Collection Sheet
✔ Suggested Companion Resources
✔ Ideas to Extend and Practice the Concept
✔ Resources Come in Digital, Print, Color, and Black and White
✔ "I Can" Learning Statements Poster
✔ Playing a Game Visual Poster
✔ Positive Notes Home
✔ Game Board with Spinner, Pawns, and Dice
✔ 36 Situation Cards with a Digital and Printable Version
✔ 36 Situation Example Cards with a Digital and Printable Version
✔ Feelings Poster
✔ 28 Nonverbal Communication Cards to Discuss in a Digital and Printable Version
✔ Dice with Reflection Questions
✔ 8 Page Social Story Booklet in Digital and Printable Formats
✔ 24 Game Cards for Discussion and Reflection
✔ Board Game with Spinners, Pawns, and Dice (Digital and Print)
✔ 54 Coloring Pages and Worksheets
✔ Story with Reflection Questions
✔ Writing Response
✔ Graphic Organizers
✔ Cut and Paste Worksheet ✔ Quotes for Discussion Prompts
✔ 6 Page Perspective Taking Skills Flipbook
✔ Was I Showing Perspective Taking Today? Self-Reflection Worksheet
I've also got a Perspective Taking Growing Bundle which has a bunch of different activities focused on perspective taking, including:
Lock in the price today, as new resources are added at no additional cost to you, and the cost goes up as new resources are added.
You can also scroll up to the top of this page and subscribe to my free SEL resource library. Reply to the email by opting-in to the email and you'll gain access to this dice rolling activity, and a bunch more awesome social-emotional learning content! I send out new freebies monthly to my subscribers!
APA (n.d.) https://dictionary.apa.org/false-belief-task
APA (n.d.) https://dictionary.apa.org/joint-attention
Baron-Cohen, S. (1991). Precursors to a theory of mind: Understanding attention in others. Natural theories of mind: Evolution, development and simulation of everyday mindreading, 1, 233-251.
Ruhl, C. (2020, Aug 07). Theory of mind. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/theory-of-mind.html
Wellman, H. M. & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling theory of mind tasks. Child Development, 75, 759-763.
Wellman, H. M., Fang, F., & Peterson, C. C. (2011). Sequential progressions in a theory‐of‐mind scale: Longitudinal perspectives. Child development, 82 (3), 780-792.