Some kids (and adults) have trouble accepting other people’s point of view. They think they’re always right, and everyone else is wrong. That’s especially true for kids who struggle with flexible thinking.
Flexible thinking lets people see things from different angles. Kids who struggle with it have trouble understanding that people don’t all think alike. And that can cause problems during election season, when they hear people at home, at school, on the news, or on social media disagreeing and arguing.
“Kids who struggle with flexible thinking often are great at debating, which requires taking a perspective and holding on to it,” says Ellen Braaten, PhD, director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. “Outside of debate club, this can make it hard to cope with opinions you see as wrong.”
Not all kids like to argue their views. They might even get upset when other people disagree. Even if someone calmly shares a different opinion, they might think they’re angry. And kids might worry that people who disagree — including family members — don’t like or love each other.
So how can you help your child understand that people have different opinions, and that it’s OK if they don’t always agree? Braaten offers these tips to help your child cope.
Kids don’t always know the bigger picture behind what they’re hearing or saying. It can help to put things in context. For example, you can say things like:
- “Did you know that in many places, women earn a lot less than men, especially women of color?”
- “Aunt Rose helped organize a protest against racial injustice.”
- “Uncle Steve lost his job a few months ago, and he’s worried about the economy.”
Hear them out.
Kids need to be able to share their beliefs and feelings. But they also need to learn how to debate and discuss opinions with respect. You can tell your child, “I hear what you’re saying, but I have a different view that I’d like to share with you.”
It’s also important to really listen. Your child’s opinions may actually be worries. Kids may have a lot of “what ifs” going through their head right now. “What if I make Dad even more stressed out if I disagree with him?” Help your child be aware of and talk about feelings and emotions.
Be a role model.
Kids can have great empathy for a cause, but not for the friend who doesn’t feel the same way. Model understanding and tolerance at home and point out how you handle disagreements: “I don’t agree with Uncle Fred, but I don’t want him to feel bad about sharing his ideas. That’s why I let him finish what he was saying.”
Saying “Let’s agree to disagree” doesn’t work when kids think their idea is the only right one. Instead, change the subject while letting them know you’re not tuning them out.
You can say, “This has been a good discussion, and I can see you have strong feelings. Grandma sees things differently. We can talk about it more another time. But for now, let’s do something we all enjoy doing.”
Explain that it’s OK to disagree.
Kids need to know that it’s natural for people to have different opinions. Disagreeing doesn’t mean something’s wrong.
Talk about your child’s experience: “Aren’t there times when you’ve argued with me or one of your friends? That doesn’t mean you don’t love or care about us, does it? People can disagree, but it doesn’t change how they feel about each other.”
Whether they want to voice their opinions, or they don’t like conflict, there’s one thing all kids need to know. It’s never OK to use rude, insulting, or hateful language, or to yell. It’s wrong if someone else does it, or if they do it.
If your child has trouble seeing situations and problems from different angles, there are ways to help. Try these activities for building flexible thinking skills. And ask your child to help you think of different ways you can approach a problem you need to solve.
About the author
About the author
The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.
Ellen Braaten, PhD is a child psychologist, professor, and founding director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program (LEAP) at Massachusetts General Hospital.