There is no definite answer to the question of how children develop skills of reading people’s mental states, also known as the theory of mind. Some researchers consider those psychological qualities and psychogenic diseases are significantly influenced by social conditions. For this reason, parents have a great influence on how the child will engage with other people. If you are interested in such a topic, we are glad to share with you this child development essay sample written by one of our skilled writers.
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How Do Families Help the Development of Young Children’s Theory of Mind?
Theory of mind is a gradually developing psychological construct that predicts one’s social functioning (Z. Wang and L. Wang 1-8). It is the ability to perceive others as “mental beings” with capacities for their own mental states and perspectives and that those may differ from ours, rendering it the most essential social cognitive development in early childhood. That being said, families, being the people they are closest to in their first few years, play a principal role in the development of young children’s theory of mind.
Verbal communication functions as both training ground and arena for applying theory of mind capabilities. A meta-analysis has shown that with many other abilities considered, language development has a relatively high correlation with that of theory of mind (Milligan et al. 622-46). This relationship has further been validated by findings that children who participate in family discussions score higher on theory of mind tasks while deaf children, who lack the capacity for deeper communication with their parents during early years, score lower (Ruffman et al. 734–51; Woolfe et al. 768-78). As implied in the studies, extensive verbal communication in families is a key contributor to the development of young children’s theory of mind.
Contextually, extensive verbal communication refers to the application of mental state verbs in familial conversations with the children. Such are words to describe cognitive rather than physical actions; for instance, to think, learn, remember, and so on. The incorporation of mental state verbs into their conversations with their children, talking about how the speaker, the child or others may feel, think or want, helps introduce the child to different perspectives and mental states that one may have (Miller 142; Ruffman et al. 734–51). Similarly, by providing reasons when correcting misbehavior, parents help their children develop awareness as to how their actions may impact the feelings of others (Ruffman et al. 395–411).
In addition to day-to-day conversations, families also help the development of children’s theory of mind through various learning activities. Pretend play serves as a more entertaining and, ergo, effective method of teaching children these skills by acting out different scenarios to portray negotiations, thought processes and feelings to highlight that the characters may have thoughts different from one another (Youngblade and Dunn 1472). Games, on the other hand, may prove as a more Machiavellian approach, allowing children to sharpen these skills in attempts to exploit the apparent perspectives of others for their gain (Ding 1812–21).
To summarize, families do help significantly in the development of young children’s theory of mind, and they do so through their extents of shared verbal communication and various learning activities that they engage in with the children. These methods, whether or not intentionally applied, cultivate the children’s intuitive understanding of the different mental states in different people and how those link to their actions and behaviors.
Ding, Xiao Pan, et al. “Theory-of-Mind Training Causes Honest Young Children to Lie.” Psychological Science, vol. 26, no. 11, Feb. 2015, pp. 1812–1821. doi:10.1177/0956797615604628.
Miller, Carol A. “Developmental Relationships between Language and Theory of Mind.” American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, vol. 15, no. 2, Jan. 2006, p. 142. doi:10.1044/1058-0360(2006/014).
Milligan, Karen, et al. “Language and Theory of Mind: Meta-Analysis of the Relation between Language Ability and False-Belief Understanding.” Child Development, vol. 78, no. 2, 2007, pp. 622–646. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8624.2007.01018.x.
Ruffman, Ted, et al. “How Parenting Style Affects False Belief Understanding.” Social Development, vol. 8, no. 3, 2001, pp. 395–411. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.00103.
Ruffman, Ted, et al. “The Relation between Children’s and Mothers’ Mental State Language and Theory-of-Mind Understanding.” Child Development, vol. 73, no. 3, 2002, pp. 734–751. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00435.
Wang, Zhenlin, and Lamei Wang. “The Mind and Heart of the Social Child: Developing the Empathy and Theory of Mind Scale.” Child Development Research, vol. 2015, 2015, pp. 1–8. doi:10.1155/2015/171304.
Woolfe, Tyron, et al. “Signposts to Development: Theory of Mind in Deaf Children.” Child Development, vol. 73, no. 3, 2002, pp. 768–778. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00437.
Youngblade, Lise M., and Judy Dunn. “Individual Differences in Young Children’s Pretend Play with Mother and Sibling: Links to Relationships and Understanding of Other People’s Feelings and Beliefs.” Child Development, vol. 66, no. 5, 1995, p. 1472. doi:10.2307/1131658.