Theory of Mind
I get where you are at or…
knowing that people know and think differently to each other and knowing how to work out what it is another person might know and think.
The contribution of Theory of Mind to self-regulation is in providing the thinking and the language to reinforce the emotional insights gained with empathy. For example, another child suddenly starts crying – theory of mind coupled with empathy allows the onlooking child to guess that they can no longer see the toy they were playing with which has left them feeling it’s been taken and hidden. Empathy by itself isn’t always enough for shared problem-solving. Theory of Mind allows logic, choosing from multiple strategies and multiple perspectives-taking to be added to a child’s problem-solving menu.
Play, even from very early, helps build Theory of Mind. Many of the playful games parents play in those early weeks and months help baby understand that there is ‘me’ and ‘not me’. For example, in a surprise game, baby learns that she isn’t in charge of exactly when that surprise comes or what it might be. Imagine a mother playing ‘peekaboo’ with a teddy. Suddenly, instead of peeking out, teddy jumps! The baby shrieks with joy – and at the same time she is appreciating that if her Mum can surprise her, then she and her mum are not the same. Such games are the beginning of knowing that other people are things with minds and with different knowledge and intentions to you.
By the time children are in kindergarten Theory of Mind underpins the sophisticated problem-setting and solving in group imaginative play – and is grown by these experiences. Together children jump from imagined perspective to imagined perspective, linking events, ideas and emotions – the drama and emotion of the game keeping them involved far longer in such heavy cognitive work than would be possible in any other kind of learning. Play offers the involved adult many opportunities to help children build Theory of Mind through asking questions or suggesting limitations (maybe he only visits this planet once every hundred years so he doesn’t really understand this kind of dragon?) which help reveal how very differently an event or situation could be viewed.