5 Strategies to Develop Theory of Mind Skills for Your Child: Part 1
Last week we talked a bit about the Theory of Mind—why it’s so important for children with hearing loss to build their social skills, make friends, and ultimately have lots of access to rich and meaningful language and speech early in their life.
Now, here are 5 strategies that you can use to help your child develop their Theory of Mind skills in day-to-day life. And next week we’ll share more 5 activities that you can do with your child to help them.
“Mental State Verbs” in the Theory of Mind
This isn’t one of the tips, but just a quick definition of the term “mental state verbs” that we’ll use throughout this post. Mental state verbs are words about thoughts that you have: think, believe, like, love, hate, imagine, hope, remember, know, guess, feel, wish, forget, recognise, learn, perceive, decide, understand, miss, appreciate, and surprise are all mental state verbs.
These mental states are not always something that we can observe or see others doing. For example, you can’t necessarily observe someone imagining, guessing or forgetting. Because of this they can be more difficult to learn and understand—unless we have lots of practice using them and hearing other people use them in a variety of contexts.
Throughout this blog article we’ll bold specific mental state words to make them easy to see.
1. Use Mental State Verbs in Your Everyday Routines
Talk with your child about your own thoughts, beliefs and feelings as you go about your day. This will give your child more opportunities to hear your thoughts, and therefore better understand what the different mental state concepts mean. For example, you might say out loud so that your child can hear:
- “I forgot to take my lunch yesterday. I left it in the fridge at home, and at lunch time, I felt so hungry. I have to remember to take it tomorrow.”
- “We could get a treat at the shops. I think Andrew might like a treat. We could get him a lollipop, or we could get him some jelly beans. What do you think he might like?”
- “I felt so happy when you got an award at school today. I didn’t know that was happening, it was such a surprise!”
- “I don’t know where Sarah put the keys. I’m guessing they might be on the table. Or she could have left them in her bag.”
- “I saw Uncle Chris at the shops today. I was surprised to see him, as I thought he was still on holidays.”
2. Link Concrete Objects with Mental State Verbs
Go beyond just talking about things and objects, and draw direct connections between the objects and mental state verbs. Here are some ways:
- Bring together a few different objects—toys, books, clothes, anything—and pick one that you like and explain to your child why you like
- Encourage your child to then choose one that they like and give reasons why they like Then have them guess which one their sibling or other parent might like, and follow by asking the sibling or other parent which one they like. Are the answers the same?
- Make a surprise for their sibling or other parent before they come home, like making a card or cupcakes. Talk with your child about how the sibling or parent doesn’t know that there’s a surprise waiting, and then when the sibling or parent comes home ask them if they knew about the surprise. When they say “no”, this will highlight to your child that we can know or believe something that another person might not.
3. Talk About Past Experiences
Talk with your child about what happened earlier in the day, week, month, or year, while incorporating mental state verbs. Highlight perspectives, thoughts, and motives of other people who were involved with these experiences:
“We wanted to do something special for James for his birthday. We knew he liked going to the zoo. We remembered the last time we went to the zoo together; James told us that he felt so happy to see the crocodiles. He told us that he thinks they are the coolest animal there!”
4. Talk About Upcoming Events
Tell your child about events that will happen in the future, giving reasons as to why you participate in the events in the way you do. Asking your child questions that relate to mental states can help them to understand these concepts through direct interaction and engagement in conversation. Here are some example answers of what you can say to your child:
- “I would like to visit grandma today. She likes it when we visit in the afternoon. I think we should take her a cake. What type of cake do you think grandma might like? We could take her an apple cake. Or we could take her a carrot cake. Do you remember what type of cake grandma likes best?”
- “Grandpa likes going for a swim at sunrise every morning. He believes that he gets the most out of his day when he starts it with a swim.”
Make-believe stories can help your child to put their thoughts into a character, and develop thoughts that reflect the likes, dislikes, emotions and beliefs of the character. If these likes and dislikes reflect the likes and dislikes of your child, you could highlight this to your child by saying “Oh, that’s just like you! I know that you like riding your bike in the afternoon with your brother, and this person in the story likes to do that too! You both like the same activity!”
5. Name the Mental States as They Happen
Make sure your child notices other people’s mental states by drawing specific attention to them. When someone is thinking, highlight that they’re thinking and that we don’t necessarily know their thoughts. When someone is happy, highlight that they’re feeling happy:
- “What do you think John is thinking? Should we ask him – what do you think, John?”
- “What do you think Sam might like to eat? Why don’t you ask him, Sam, what would you like to eat?”
- “We’ll have to guess what colour Amy might like.”
When you do this, highlight that you and your child don’t always know what John is thinking, or what Sam or Amy would like, but you can find out by asking them. Sometimes, their thoughts and feelings will be different from your own.
If you have a child, have any of these activities helped you?
Have you heard about SONNET 2? Discover how our latest cochlear implant audio processor is made for your child.
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This post was written with help from Ingrid Steyns, a rehabilitation specialist at MED-EL.
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