Sometimes you might feel silly when you catch yourself talking to your baby in a sing-song voice. Or perhaps you have a lengthy conversation with your toddler but believe they can’t really sense how you’re feeling. They probably understand more than you realise thanks to an essential life skill called ‘theory of mind’.
Puting theory into practice when you talk to your baby
Little people: “From early infancy be sensitive to your child’s psychological needs as well as their physical needs,” says Degotardi. “Treat your 12-month-old baby as if they’ve got a mind and talk to them in a way that reflects that.”
Simple words: When you are playing or interacting with your child, use simple words to talk about what they want and what they are trying to do and encourage them to act on that.
Close and personal: Close personal contact, especially with babies, fosters a feeling of trust and encouragement for your child where they’ll feel safe to express themselves. Follow what they are interested in and talk to them about their interests, even if they still can’t talk back to you
Don’t be intrusive when you talk to your baby
Don’t be intrusive When your child is playing or talking about what they are doing and how they are thinking and feeling, try to encourage them to express themselves. Don’t be intrusive and put forward your own interpretation of what they are doing and what they want to do. Encourage them to tell you what is happening in their world at that moment.
Be mind-oriented: “A mind-oriented mum deseribing what her child does would say ‘She crawled to the toy cupboard because she knew her favourite toy was in there and she really enjoys playing with that favourite ball, says Deotardi. “A mum who is less mind-oriented would say ‘She crawled to the toy cupboard, took out her ball and played with it. She focuses far more on the physical behaviour rather than acknowledging the psychological aspect behind the behaviour.”
Keep talking: “Between the ages of one and two there’s a language explosion,” says Degotardi. “By the time children get to two they not only talk about objects and actions but they start to incorporate psychological words into their vocabulary. They say how they feel and what they want and why. Once they can use those words and explanations it opens the door for conversations about the mind.”
Remind them of their own mind
Remind them of their mind “Drawing your child’s attention to why they are doing what they are doing draws their attention to the fact they have a mind,” says Degotardi. It will also help them realise everyone they talk to and play with also has a mind, and that mind may lead them to think, feel and act differently-an important lesson for life.
Talk as if they understand Talk to your baby or toddler on the basis that they can understand everything you tell them, and assume they can appreciate everything happening around them. “The baby becomes more aware they have a mind,” says Degotardi. “It draws their attention to the fact that minds exist.”
Don’t underestimate your child’s theory of mind The skill has been linked to social competence in children, good peer relationships and to positive experiences at school.
“Theory of mind helps a child work out what the teacher wants in certain situations,” says Degotardi. “It helps them become more proficient in the classroom.”
Read part 1 here.