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Tuning into others: your child & theory of mind

The other day you took your little one out shopping to choose a present for daddy’s birthday and asked her what she thought he might like. She pointed to the princess dolly she’s been eyeing up for a while and said, “this one!”, clapping her hands together gleefully.

In her mind, the dolly is a perfect gift for daddy, if she loves it then he will too. So you tried to explain that perhaps daddy would prefer a mug with his name on it or how about some Daddy Dinosaur socks instead – he’d love these? But she was still keen to get him the doll. You’re curious to know how your child sees the world at this age. When she will become aware that other people don’t necessarily share her feelings, thoughts and wishes?

Theory of mind and happy growth

Developing “theory of mind” is an exciting stage in your child’s development which happens gradually between three and five. They are starting to understand other people’s thoughts, feelings and actions as well as their own.1 Try the simple tests to work out whether your child has “theory of mind” yet and then help them to develop it with pretend play and story time. As always, play is key to happy growth.

3 ways to tell if your child has “theory of mind"

Show your child a box with painted crayons on it and ask them what they think is inside.

When they make a guess that it has crayons inside show them the box contains sweets. Close the box and ask them what their friend would think was inside.

While a three-year-old will typically say that their friend thinks there’s sweets inside the box, a five-year-old will give you the correct answer.

With the help of two dolls, tell your child the following story:

“Max puts his chocolate in a box and goes off to play. While he’s away and can’t see what his friend is doing, he takes the chocolate out of the box and hides it under a towel. Then Max comes back. Where will he look for his chocolate?”

While a three-year-old thinks that Max will look for chocolate under the towel, a five-year-old will give you the right answer.

Another sign that your child is starting to develop “theory of mind” is when they show signs of so-called ”social” emotions, such as embarrassment or shame

For example, your child Is hiding their face or looking away when they realise they have done something wrong. Such emotions require a basic understanding of other people’s thoughts and feelings.

4 ways to help your child develop “theory of mind”

  • Talk about your child’s thoughts and feelings as well as about your own thoughts and feelings. You can teach your child to put her feelings into words and think about why they happen by talking about them.
  • Be responsive to their social observations. You can help your child to understand other people’s perspectives by being responsive to their social observations and answering any questions they might have.
  • Pretend play. This is a great way of teaching your child how to see things from other people’s perspectives. You can play along by helping your child to take the role of mum or dad. Your child could pretend to be sad and worried because their dog is sick. You can play along by helping them take the dog to the vet, who is concerned and comforting. The vet treats the dog, the dog gets better, and the owner is happy and grateful.
  • Look at picture books with your child and tell them stories. Talk about the characters’ thoughts and feelings, what they want to do and why. Also, try to link the story with your child’s own experiences.

Remember, everything starts in the tummy and grows from there... when they feel right, they can enjoy all the ways of Growing Up Happy.

IMPORTANT NOTICE. NESTLÉ® LACTOKID® 4 is not a breastmilk substitute, and is formulated to support the changing nutrition needs of healthy young children older than 3 years.