Interest in minds key to building bonds with children - Telethon Speech & Hearing

Interest in minds key to building bonds with children

Interest in minds key to building bonds with children


Parents often like knowing they are doing all they can to support their children’s development, yet it can be hard to know what to prioritise to make this happen.

One key to this mystery might lie in parents trying to build their curiosity about what occurs in their child’s mind.

In collaboration with Telethon Speech & Hearing, a team of researchers from Curtin University’s School of Psychology and Speech Pathology under the supervision of Dr Matthew Ruggiero have been working to identify factors that support healthy emotional and social development in young children with hearing impairments.

The team has done this by measuring the effect that parent and/or child anxiety has on the emotional fit between mother and child – that is, whether anxiety impacts the ability of the pair to interact together in a way that supports the child’s emotional development.

In addition, the team has tried to work out whether certain parental skills and abilities can be used to support a child’s emotional development.

Twenty five mothers along with their children from Telethon Speech & Hearing, Ear Science Institute, and West Australian Foundation for Deaf Children, participated in the study. As a result, a number of interesting trends were observed.

Parent stress and the child’s own anxiety influenced child development. The lower these factors were, the more likely that mother and child were able to work together to support the child’s emotional development.

A parental skill called ‘mentalizing’ appeared to be important in this study.

Mentalizing refers to our ability to accurately imagine and respond to the things inside a child’s mind that motivate their behaviour, such as their hopes, fears, intentions, and so on. Interviews with parents in this study supported that this skill helps parents to manage their parenting stress, make sense of their child, and improves the ability of the pair to work together to manage the tough emotions that the child experiences.

There are a few things that parents can practically do to improve mentalizing in the home. Talking with a child about emotional experiences and linking these to behaviour can really help children to understand the social world around them. Parents can do this by sharing their own emotional experiences and explaining how these motivate behaviour. Talking about the child’s emotions and discussing how these might have influenced the child’s behaviour is also important. If things are particularly heated or stressed, then it’s best to wait until everyone cools down and then later to deliberately try to understand together what each person felt and how that might have led them to act the way they did. It can be helpful to invite the child to wonder about these links too, rather than providing all the answers as a parent.