Welcome back to Headstart For Life’s Blog, Beyond Therapy! Today, we are going to look at an important skill that enables our children to form meaningful interactions and relationships with the people around them.
Imagine the following case scenario together with me.
Anthony was playing with his favorite toy train in the living room. He needed to go to the washroom so he placed his toy train on the bookshelf. His mother then entered the living room and moved his toy train from the bookshelf to the drawer. Where would Anthony look for his toy train first when he returned to the living room?
The answer is pretty obvious to most of us. We are able to take the perspective of Anthony and believe that he thought his toy train was still on the bookshelf. We understand from Anthony’s point of view that he did not see his mother move his toy train, even though we, as the readers or listeners, saw or heard it in the story.
However, for someone who is unable to understand other people’s states of mind, he might believe that Anthony thought the toy train was in the drawer. To him, what he sees, thinks, and feels is the same as what other people see, think and feel. This usually happens for a very young child or someone with an impaired Theory of Mind due to an underlying neurodevelopmental condition such as Autism Spectrum Disorder or Social Communication Disorder.
Theory of mind refers to the ability to understand the mental states of other people. It helps us to understand another person’s perspective, emotions, knowledge, and beliefs, and recognize that those mental states may differ from our own.
Developing Theory of Mind is a key stage in each child’s development. It is a skill that develops between four and five years of age in typically developing children. Children who are very young tend to be more egocentric and are often unable to think about the mental states of others. As they grow up, their theory of mind emerges and continues to develop.
Theory of mind helps us to better infer other people’s intentions based on our understanding or perception of how they think or feel. As we form a more accurate idea of what other people are thinking or feeling, we can better predict their behavior and respond accordingly to each social scenario.
Forging a strong theory of mind plays an important role in our social worlds. It allows us to engage in social relationships and solve interpersonal conflicts. As your child grows, there are some games that you can use to help him understand the mental states of other people.
Games that involve either party knowing a secret will encourage your child to take the perspective of another person and figure out what he should do in order to win the game effectively.
In each hide and seek game, there is someone who will hide, and someone who will find the person hiding. Some children think that if they cannot see you, it means that you cannot see them too.
You can encourage your child to think about what makes each hiding place a good or bad choice. If your child has difficulties figuring out what has gone wrong with the hiding place he has chosen, you can take a video or photo of him hiding, and show it to him later while discussing what has gone wrong.
In card games such as Monopoly Deal or Uno Card Game, the child has to be able to identify that the way he holds his cards is very important.
Card games involve important skills such as seeing leads to knowing, where if the opponent players see his cards, his opponent players will be able to win the game easily by playing out cards that are not at an advantage to those he has on hand. You can encourage your child to think about why he is always on the losing end of the game, and how he can make it better.
In the HedBanz game, each child will not know his card but will be able to see his opponent player’s card. He has to understand that what he sees is different from what his opponent player sees.
The game also requires the child to understand that the card on the opponent player’s head is a secret to the opponent player, even though he can see it clearly. Therefore, he must not accidentally reveal the answer by directly telling the opponent player what he sees, otherwise, the opponent player will win the game easily.
If you have any other ideas on games that can help develop a child’s theory of mind, do leave a comment below and let us know! Thank you for reading and stay tuned to Headstart For Life to catch our next post at Beyond Therapy!
1. Wellman, H. M. & Liu, D. (2004). Scaling theory of mind tasks. Child Development, 75, 759-763.
2. Peterson, C. C., Wellman, H. M. & Slaughter, V. (2012). The mind behind the message: Advancing theory-of-mind scales for typically developing children, and those with deafness, autism, or asperger syndrome. Child Development, 83(2), 469-485.