One of my favorite things to work on in the therapeutic process is Theory of Mind. This concept refers to a person’s understanding of another person’s current mental state-such as thoughts, wants, emotions, and motives. In order to empathize or understand another person’s emotions, it is necessary to have Theory of Mind.
Some children naturally have more emotional intelligence while others require methodical teaching of this skill.
Why is it important for communication? It helps a child develop appropriate social interaction skills. Imagine a child who lacks Theory of Mind, critical thinking, or inferencing skills… he/she may not be able to participate in conversations like: what they like to do on the weekend, a particularly sad or funny story, jokes, etc.
How do we teach this? 1. Imitate facial expressions
2. Identify emotions on faces/pictures of people
3. Talk about how a person is feeling during certain situations
4. Verbally express how the child is feeling
5. Acknowledge emotions and appropriate reactions
This is fascinating and probably one of my favorite fun facts about the brain. We subconsciously imitate another person’s facial expressions during conversations which then activates similar parts of the brain that the communication partner is activating. This plays a huge role in empathy as our brain can then help us understand how the other person is feeling. It has been theorized that problems within the mirror neuron system may underlie some cognitive disorders, particularly autism and other developmental language delays.
This is why it is important to directly teach empathy and theory of mind.