Theory of Mind: Social Mind-Reading

I Know that You Know that I Know. Confusing, right? Recognizing what others do and don’t know and why they do somethings and don’t do other things takes a lot of practice. Understanding these details in interactions is HUGE and takes some serious mind-reading. This social mind-reading is “Theory of Mind” (TOM). TOM is the ability to recognize that others have different perspectives and feelings and to hypothesize about why others do what they do because of what they are thinking. Essentially, it’s knowing what others are thinking, how this affects their actions, and how you use this information to determine your actions. TOM is incredibly important when developing social skills for preschoolers on the playground and for teens navigating high school. Without TOM, how could you identify sarcasm, answer questions without responding inappropriately, or recognize when you’re being subtly turned down for a date?

TOM is one of my favorite higher-leveled preschool skills to work on because you’re synthesizing multiple language targets. This is when you get to the fun stuff. You’ve taught your preschooler to identify emotions, use conjunctions in structured sentences, and demonstrate appropriate non-verbal social cues and now…. what do you do? Start by explaining emotions, behaviors, and beliefs that you read in books and see in movie clips.

 Little Critter

My favorite books for TOM are Little Critter. Mercer Mayer’s Little Critter books are the answer to nearly every preschool language target. While reading together, talk about what you think the characters might do next, how the characters are feeling and why they are feeling that way. An example of this is: “Little Critter is feeling mad. I wonder why he’s mad. Oh, he’s mad because he lost his baseball mitt.”

Pixar Shorts

Pixar short films are awesome for teaching TOM because there are tons of basic emotions, interactions between individuals, and they'll keep your kiddo's attention. While you're watching the films, periodically pause them and talk about what's happening. Ask your child questions about what they're seeing and why they think certain things are happening. I like to teach how to make inferences while simultaneously developing Theory of Mind. You have to have a foundational Theory of Mind to accurately make inferences about others' behaviors and emotions.

What books and activities do you like to use to develop your child's Theory of Mind?

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