Child’s Voice staff will be studying Theory of Mind, which refers to how we develop theories about other people’s minds — what they may be thinking, how they may be feeling, what they may do next.

I feel staff development is extremely important for the continued growth of our staff professionally. On September 30, we hosted Dr. Mary Ellen Nevins to help us process and understand in greater depth the concept of Theory of Mind, or ToM. While Dr. Nevins spoke on the Wood Dale campus, Landon Lacey of MED EL presented ToM to a handful of our staff (along with other professionals) at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

Child’s Voice will spend this year learning more about this concept. In addition, we will learn how to foster our students’ social and emotional development. Social-emotional learning (SEL) focuses on helping students develop the ability to identify their strengths, manage their emotions, set goals, show empathy, make responsible decisions, and build and maintain healthy relationships. Our work is cut out for us.

Research has shown that such skills pay a key role in reducing anti-social behavior, boosting academic achievement, and improving long–term health. (1)

A hallmark of Theory of Mind is the point when a child has developed an awareness that others may not have knowledge they have.

In fact, ToM refers to how we develop theories about other people’s minds — what they may be thinking, how they may be feeling, what they may do next. We make these assumptions easily, without even recognizing that we are doing something fundamentally amazing: We are making predictions about what is going on in other people’s heads and, even more amazingly, these predictions often prove correct.

Theory of mind stands apart from other theories that seek to explain how we can attribute mental states to those we deem as “others.” Specifically, it states that at some point around age 3 or 4, we become aware that other people hold different attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge than we do. It becomes apparent to our minds that knowledge can be compartmentalized (we may know something someone else doesn’t and vice versa). We realize that there is such a thing as pretense (the ability to create falsehoods). And we realize that other people may feel differently than us, meaning we do not all share the same mental and emotional states and beliefs simultaneously. (2)

Child’s Voice will look at the development of Theory of Mind in early childhood and early elementary years. ToM is at the base of children’s social understanding. The implicit theory in infants becomes more explicit during the preschool years and provides an important foundation for school entry. ToM is more like language than literacy, in so far as it is a system with biological roots that develops without specific teaching. However, environmental factors do influence its development. According to researchers Dr. Janet Astington and Margaret Edward from Canada, ToM can be enhanced by opportunities:

  • To engage in rich pretend play
  • To talk about people’s thoughts, wants and feelings, and the reasons why they act the way they do
  • To hear and talk about stories, especially those involving surprises, secrets, tricks and mistakes, that invite children to see things from different points of view (for example, Red Riding Hood doesn’t know that the wolf is dressed up as grandma)

Parents and caregivers can be made aware of signs, such as lack of pretend play or lack of shared attention and interest that might indicate Theory of Mind is not developing in the typical way.(3)

It will be a very exciting year of learning and growth for both professionals and students. Families will be learning alongside all of us. There is much more to come throughout the year.


Dr. Michele


  1. Child Development, “The Impact of Enhancing Students’ Social and Emotional Learning: A Meta-Analysis of School-Based Universal Interventions,”
  2. Josh Clark, “What is theory of mind?” 5 April 2011.
  3. Baron-Cohen S, Cox A, Baird G, Swettenham J, Nightingale N, Morgan K, Drew A, Charman T. Psychological markers in the detection of autism in infancy in a large population. British Journal of Psychiatry, 1996; 168:158-163.