Theory of Mind

Theory of Mind

Mind-Mindedness and Attachment

There’s a trickle down effect from your brain to your children’s brain. We have mirror neurons in our brain- they map what other people are doing and feeling as if we were doing and feeling the same thing.

Before the age of 4 kids don’t have the cognitive ability to think about emotions as separate from the people around them. This means that infants are often feeling what we are feeling - they emotionally mirror the environment around them.

Given that our infants are responding to what they are seeing and are building their brain around ours, being mind-minded can help facilitate the scaffolding effect of your baby’s brain development. By calming ourselves, revealing our mind to those around us, we naturally calm our children. And using mind-minded language helps your baby or child understand their own behavior in terms of their mental states. 

A study by Elizabeth Meins found that appropriately interpreting your baby’s behavior and saying things about your baby’s thoughts, desires, intentions, and memories predicted attachment security better than maternal sensitivity.

Meins used five categories to assess for maternal accuracy in interpreting infant mental states, four of which were dependent on maternal responses to infant behaviours, such as object-directed activity. The fifth category was “Appropriate mind-related comments”, which looked at individual differences in mothers ’ ability to comment appropriately on their infants ’ mental states. Higher scores in this fifth category related to a secure attachment relationship at 12 months.

“Maternal sensitivity and Appropriate mind-related comments were independent predictors of attachment security at 12 months” They believe that a mother’s ability to “perceive things from the child’s point of view” can help us reassess what maternal sensitivity means.

“To this end, Meins (1997) coined the term maternal mind-mindedness to describe the mother’s proclivity to treat her infant as an individual with a mind, rather than merely as a creature with needs that must be satisfied. The concept of mind-mindedness clearly captures the flavour of Ainsworth et al.’s distinction between sensitive and insensitive mothering. That is, the mind-minded mother is sensitive to the child’s ‘‘ work-in-progress ’’, is willing to change her focus of attention in response to cues from the infant, and so on.”

You can help your infant identify their mental state as early as 6 months by saying things like “oh, you’re crying! You look unhappy. Do you need to eat or change positions?” Talk to your child about what your observing to help your child (or baby!) understand the relationship between one’s beliefs and one’s behavior.


Rethinking Maternal Sensitivity: Mothers’ Comments on Infants’ Mental Processes Predict Security of Attachment at 12 Months

Elizabeth Meins, Charles Fernyhough, Emma Fradley, and Michelle TuckeyStaffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, U.K.









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