A component of hearing loss that is often overlooked is the development of theory of mind. This can be found in a child’s ability to make friends, participate in pretend play, have a conversation, and tell a story! Theory of mind is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes or to be able to take their perspective. Children with typical hearing enter Kindergarten with a basic theory of mind while most often, children with hearing loss do not (Tucci, 2016). When a child acquires a theory of mind, it allows them to predict and explain how a person’s behavior is affected by their emotions and feelings. The development of these interpersonal skills is predicated on the development of a person’s cognitive and affective skills.
Theory of mind is necessary for a child’s success in conversational, educational, and social settings. It allows children to understand linguistic cues, increase their critical thinking, expand on conversational skills, and maintain relationships with friends. Through the use of more abstract words, words used about thoughts and feelings, we can assure that a child will be ready to succeed in Kindergarten with a theory of mind. Think about separating the words that you use into three categories: intention, belief, and desire. Intention is an action in pursuit of a goal, belief is one’s perspectives, opinions, and expectations, while desire is one’s needs, likes, dislikes, and hopes. When we use more abstract words, we not only expose our children to more complex language, but we also expect them to acquire an understand of these words and generalize them into their everyday language.
It is easy to incorporate theory of mind into everyday conversations! Below are strategies to aid in the development of your child’s theory of mind:
- Read a book (i.e. narrating how a character is feeling)
- Have a conversation about wants/feelings (i.e. ask your child ‘how’ another person may be feeling)
- Make predictions during movies, television shows, or books
- Talk about past and future experiences
- Play games that include predicting behavior and feelings (i.e. Hide and Seek, Taboo, Charades)
- Incidental learning (Set up opportunities for your child to overhear conversations about feelings, behaviors, etc.)
- Create crafts that include recognition of feelings
- Participate in pretend play (i.e. play with dolls, characters buying and selling in a store)
- Talk about routines
- Exhibit non-predictable behavior and talk about why/how it happened
- Set your expectations (Repeat a sentence that your child said with more abstract words)
Set a goal for yourself and your family at home to try to incorporate theory of mind at least five times in your day!