I have gradually been seeing a change in Michael when it comes to “theory of mind”, aka taking others’ feelings into consideration. It has been wonderful. Particularly lately when he has come home from school and we are having snack together, he will ask me questions about my work day, about my writing, about any business conference/meeting/workshop I went to. He has even asked if I am happy or worried. I have been excited to see this developing. He has been doing the same thing with his father. Dad and I have been encouraging him at supper to talk about his day, and then he has seen how we share things about our own individual days. Slowly we are teaching him that he needs to look outside himself in order to grow. This is something that is hard for even a lot of adults to do at times.
So what ways have we used to encourage “theory of mind”? I was thinking of that the other day, and as with most things in Michael’s development, HE has led the way in showing us what tools to use to help engage him more. Here are 3 ways that have helped (and continue to help) Michael develop theory of mind:
- Engaging in mealtime conversation with turn taking: This was huge when we first started doing it, (and can still be a challenge). Michael watches as Dad and I talk about our day each then it is his turn. We make sure that everyone gets equal talking room and as his verbal skills and comprehension have increased, this has gotten a little easier.
- Role playing in games: When Michael and I play games with his toys, I have made sure to model (and now he does) appropriate and inappropriate ways to interact and the right ways to help someone who is sick or struggling.
- Social stories that explain feelings: I have started reading and writing more social stories around events that make Michael nervous to explain that there are reasons we get nervous and how to cope. Also, when we came up with tools and strategies for Michael to handle his common daytime and nighttime anxieties, I would use stories from my own youth teaching Michael about feelings and how others react.
The most important thing is that the child is developmentally ready to start having theory of mind. Michael’s grasping of this concept is still very much in its infancy. Metaphors and similes are too hard for him , so we need to explain everything literally. BUT he has surprised us in how much he understands about people’s feelings, and is learning to distinguish between more than just happiness, sadness and anger. It’s a challenge for him and us, but like with everything else, he is like a sponge absorbing all the positive things we and the school have shown him, and is mirroring it back to us amazing us with what he knows. He is giving me the confidence to expand how I speak to him, what I say, and as long as we keep things simple and to the point, he is making real headway in grasping emotions.
Exceptional Parents, how do your Exceptional Children understand theory of mind? Are they able to grasp less concrete subjects or theories? It’s alright if they are not there. It takes a while sometimes. Don’t give up. And don’t assume that you can’t model turn taking, explaining others’ points of view and teaching basic social skills. All of our children are intelligent little beings. Follow their cues, don’t put any expectations on them or yourself, and let them explain to you in their own words what they see and hear. You’ll begin to get a feel for how to model appropriate behavior and they will amaze you with all they understand and can do. Until next time.