Key takeaways for healthcare providers
- Mind mindedness is the ability of parents to accurately read and label their children’s thoughts, feelings, and wishes.
- The mind-mindedness of both mothers and fathers in children’s early years plays an important role in developing children’s ability to regulate their emotions and behaviors.
- Parents can cultivate mind-mindedness by paying close attention to their children’s behavior and taking the time to reflect on and label their children’s thoughts, wishes, and emotions.
What is Mind Mindfulness?
I have vivid memories of the first weeks of motherhood, feeling anxious and confused about why my baby was crying. I wondered: Why is she crying? How does she feel? Does she want something other than food? Maybe she just wants to be cuddled? As time passed, I began to better understand my baby’s wishes and emotions. As I spoke with other new parents, I realized that parents differ in the degree to which they can understand their children’s minds.
This ability of parents to think of their children as individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and desires, and to label these experiences in their interactions with them, is state of mind. Parents with this ability accurately read their babies’ minds and label their mental states. This may include reflecting on a child’s emotional experiences or articulating their wishes.
For example, if a child starts crying after their toy breaks, a conscious parent might say, “You seem.” angry your toy broke. you wanted to play with these toys.” Conversely, parents who misinterpret their children’s mental states (for example, assuming the child is crying because they are tired and don’t want to play anymore) demonstrate not aligned state of mind.
How mind-mindedness helps children?
Parental mind-mindedness plays an important role in the development of children’s self-regulation. Self-regulation is a critical skill what children are capable of manage their emotions and behavior in response to what a situation calls for (Eisenberg, 2000; Kochanska, 1993). As children reach the age of four or five and start school, the demand for self-regulation increases. From this age, children need to stay focused, pay attention to learning goals, and actively participate in classroom learning so that self-regulation is developed. exceptionally important (e.g. Nota et al., 2004).
Self-regulation in preschool isn’t just important for later academic achievement – mounting evidence suggests it is essential for children’s social adjustment and mental health. Preschool-aged children who can adequately regulate their emotions and behavior have more successful relationships with others, are more socially competent, have healthier lifestyle habits, and are at a lower risk of developing mental disorders (Robson et al., 2020).
The ability of parents to think of their children as individuals with their own thoughts, feelings, and desires, and to label these experiences in their interactions with them, is state of mind.
Several studies have examined the role of parental mind-mindedness in the development of self-regulation in infants and toddlers. They have shown that mothers’ and fathers’ mind-mindedness is related to emerging self-regulatory abilities in infancy and toddlerhood.Cheng et al., 2018; Gagne et al., 2018; Senehi et al., 2018; Zeegers et al., 2019). However, it remains unclear whether parental mind-mindedness plays an important role in self-regulation in preschool children at these ages. This is especially important to determine since self-regulation at preschool age predicts different life outcomes.
The relationship between parental mind-mindedness and preschoolers’ self-regulation
My colleagues and I set out to answer this question. In our recent study (Nikolić et al., 2022) we investigated whether the mind-mindedness of mothers and fathers in the first three years of a child’s life predicts the development of self-regulation after four and a half years.
We predicted that appropriate mind-mindedness in parents would help children to develop good self-regulation because children would learn their inner states of mind from parents who accurately reflect and label their state of mind (for example, when a child is sad and the parents think about the sadness of the child, the child becomes aware of the feeling and begins to understand). In contrast, a misaligned mind-mindedness in parents would hinder the development of self-regulation, because children whose parents misinterpret their thoughts, wishes, and feelings might feel misunderstood and would not learn to understand their mental states from their parents.
We assessed the mind-mindedness of mothers and fathers in the first three years on multiple occasions by observing their interactions and conversations with their children during play. Next, we measured the self-regulation of preschoolers at age 4.5 in several ways. First, we asked parents about their perception of their children difficult controlor their ability to voluntarily draw attention and suppress an inappropriate response or activate an appropriate response to adapt to a situation (Eisenberg, 2005). For example, the ability to prioritize sitting quietly and listening to the teacher over playing with a friend is an aspect of exercise management.
Second, the kids completed behavioral tasks in the lab, where we asked them to keep their hands on a mat on the table while they chose a prize from a box filled with small toys or a box filled with candies (Kochanska et al., 1997). This task required children to follow instructions and suppress a dominant response (e.g. touching or pointing at a toy or candy). Finally, we measured children’s heart rate variability during rest – a bodily response related to physiological regulation (Porges, 1997).
Mind-mindedness in the first three years of a child’s life
The mind-mindedness of both mothers and fathers in the first three years of their children’s lives contributed significantly to their preschoolers’ self-regulation. Fathers who were more mind-minded with their babies and toddlers had children who were better at self-regulation when they entered school. In contrast, mothers and fathers who were more out of tune and often misinterpreted their children’s mental states had children who were less able to self-regulate when they entered school.
Fathers who were more mind-minded with their babies and toddlers had children who were better at self-regulation when they entered school.
These findings provide the first evidence that the mind-mindedness of both mothers and fathers in the early years is important for preschool children’s self-regulation. They also emphasize the role of fathers’ attunement to their children’s mental states in the early years for the development of self-regulation in preschool age.
How can parents cultivate mind-mindedness?
What does this mean for parents? While it may not be surprising that a strong bond between parent and child has positive effects on a child’s social-emotional development, the findings of our study highlight the unique importance of both mothers and fathers to be aware of the internal experiences of their children to promote self-regulation at an early age. .
Parents can pay close attention to their children’s behaviors and signals, and take the time to reflect on and label their children’s thoughts, wishes, and emotions. By doing this, parents can help their children gain insight into their own inner lives, making self-regulation easier. And the best part? It’s never too early to start this practice – even talking about mental states with your child before they can talk can help them develop this important life skill.