18 July 2017
Admit it. You talk to yourself. Whether you are wondering where you put your car keys, debating a major decision or just thinking about what to eat for dinner, you sometimes just say these things out loud to only yourself. Instead of feeling embarrassed about talking to yourself embrace this, it’s helping your child learn!
If you grew up as a typically hearing child, you probably learned much of your language through exposure and immersion. This means that you would have internalised the things you were told, but also things were reinforced by hearing the information again and again in a variety of contexts.
It is difficult for a child with a hearing loss to overhear conversations due to background noise, extent of hearing loss, proximity to others, localisation issues, etc. Early Intervention Therapy is often focused on directly teaching a child with hearing impairment to follow instructions, sequence events, produce certain sounds, increase their phrase length or narrate what they are doing (amongst many other things). It is important, though, to remember to directly teach our children the vocabulary of mental states, which is a much more complex area of language.
Theory of mind is described as “an appreciation of others’ thoughts, feelings, knowledge and wishes. “Without a theory of mind, I may give you too much information, or too little; I may hurt your feelings, confuse you, or bore you. With a theory of mind, I can judge what you need and want to know” (Miller C, A. 2006).
A typically hearing child will overhear people arguing, telling each other jokes and teasing each other. They also hear people telling sad or happy stories, forgetting things, remembering things and imagining things. The language that occurs surrounding these events allows a child to realise that other people have different thoughts, feelings, opinions and knowledge than their own.
A lot of this incidental learning is missed by children with a hearing loss through the lack of opportunity to overhear. So how can this be taught? The answer is to simply to talk out loud. No matter how silly it feels, talking out loud exposes your child to all that vocabulary they would often miss out on.
There are several ways you can use talking out loud to help your child develop theory of mind:
- Always talk about your and your child’s feelings and even include how you felt/will feel in past and future tense to decontextualise events; it is much more challenging for your child to grasp the concept of a feeling they are not currently experiencing. To help your child understand how feelings change and can be different, talk about how they are feeling right now compared to how they felt yesterday or how they might feel tomorrow. Talk about how someone else might feel if something similar happened to them.
- Take part in a lot of “imagine if” games and be creative. For e.g. “Imagine if an elephant came to school! What do you think the teacher would think? What about the elephant? Do you think he would like school?”
- Listen to what your child has to say and add in your own opinions as well. “I think the teacher would be very surprised! I don’t think the elephant would like school because it might be too small a space for him. Maybe all the people would scare him.”
- Don’t forget to talk out loud about simple everyday opportunities as well, like when you are in the car and about to pull out of the driveway and you realise you forgot your wallet inside. Use words like “forgot, remember, think, wonder, etc.”
Directly teaching theory of mind seems like a difficult task because it is not a tangible thing. A thought is not an object we can show a child as opposed to a toy cow or a toy car. Therefore, what we need to work on is our ability to recognise opportunities for learning this language and maximise them to the best of our ability. The more we can talk out loud the better your child will grasp these complex concepts.