Wife and Mother-in-law optical illusion

Old lady’s mouth.  Chic one’s necklace.

Is she a beauty or passé?

Use this optical illusion to show your child that intelligent people like you and he can interpret the same black lines in multiple ways….and both are right! Could be true of issues in life too. This article is a sequel to Listening with Open Minds.

The Wife and Mother-in-Law go to Harvard

Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, shares an example from a Harvard Business School class. Half of the class received a drawing of a young woman to look at for 10 seconds. The other half previewed a sketch of a haggard, old lady. Then all were shown the drawing on your left. When asked whether they would enjoy her company for an evening, a heated discussion ensued. Half the class exclaimed, “NO WAY!”  The others insisted it could be fun.  Voices grew louder.  Some comments were aiming below the belt.   “You want to make me suffer?!” and “What are you talking about? It’s what you like. I’m doing it for you.”

Finally, some students (remember these are future leaders!!!) humbled themselves enough to explain themselves, ask questions, and listen.

“See this line.  That’s the old woman’s mouth.”

“Oh, for us it is the chic lady’s necklace!”

(One of the Hotspots on the image.  Scroll to end for all the hints.)

And exploration ensued until all the students could identify BOTH women depicted in the optical illusion.

Are you and your child at each others’ throats unnecessarily too?  How to overcome that blockage?

Try this zero-pressure, neutral-subject confrontation to introduce the concept of varying viewpoints on identical data.

Optical illusions for kids
Optical Illusion Resources
  • Science Kids (www.sciencekids.co.nz) is a great site to spark children’s curiosity.  I love their comments regarding these illusions.
  • Octavio Ocampo (see below) is one of Mexico’s most prolific artists.  His works are characterized by detailed images integrated to fit into larger figures.  Click here to view a collection of his intriguing works.
  • Consider having a book of optical illusions at home.  Pull it out when communication needs smoothing out.  We love this book:  Optical Illusions
  • Have fun!!!!  Your joy and interest is one of the GREATEST resources for your children. :)
Octavio Ocampo
Helpful Hints to turn Optical Illusion Discussions into Optimal Communication Exchanges
  • Let your kid go first.  You listen.  She talks.
    Invite your child to interpret it first then take the opposite stance. Be adamant (playfully) about your viewpoint. (Max 5 minutes. The buzz of the kitchen timer can help smooth the transition.)
  • Two “correct”.  No “wrong”!  How can that be?
    Introduce the possibility that you both might be right. Ask your child to describe what she sees. Then you can point out how the young lady’s chic choker is also the old woman’s toothless mouth. And those bags under the old lady’s eyes are the young one’s delicate nose and finely shaped ear. (Hotspot 3)
  • Intelligent people can have different opinions.
    Remark together that identical facts (same black lines on the same white paper) could represent something totally different to very intelligent people like yourselves.  (Let her know she’s smart.  Thinking on one’s own is GOOD.  Talking nicely about differences is marvelous too.)
  • No lectures!!!
    Resist the temptation to turn this learning opportunity into a lecturing one. Stop.  For now.  Let them savor the fun of this exchange. (“Thanks for the good laughs.”)  They’ll be willing to hear more later.
  • Follow up later.
    Find a future calm moment to bring up some issues where you might not see eye to eye. Schoolwork, for example. (“Remember, darling, when we looked at that sketch of two ladies in one drawing? Maybe a textbook has multiple meanings too. What does this picture of an open textbook mean to you?”) To some parents completed homework represents future opportunity, freedom to have choices. Their own kids might perceive it as repression of opportunity (less time with friends) and servitude (imposed time tables, parental intervention …).
  • Less stress = more open mind.
    Talk it over during the holidays, while school stress is low.
Wife and Mother-in-law optical illusion

Choker necklace for the youth and toothless mouth for elderly lady.


Left ear for the Diva and sagging left eye for the Déjà Vu.


Petite nose for Mademoiselle and sagging right eye for the Madame.