Understanding Others and Emotions

By age 2 children can understand that people will feel happy if they get what they want and will feel sad if they do not. They may see that what they want is different from another’s wants. 2-year-olds talk about what they and others want and like and feel 3-year-olds also talk about what people think and know These are the building blocks of Social Cognition (being able to ‘read’ what people are thinking or feeling by their facial expressions and body language). It is widely known that children with hearing loss are very likely to have significant delays in language skills without early, effective and meaningful interactions with those around them. Children with hearing loss have a reduced listening bubble, meaning that they are unable to overhear conversations going on around them. Hearing aids have a very small microphone and pick up sound best in a quiet room when the speaker is within 3-6 feet. The distance between the ears of a child sitting on the floor near a standing parent is often further than 3-6 feet.

Along with fewer words learned, children with hearing loss are at high risk for not learning what typically hearing age mates know about social communication and  language use. (

Mental state verbs are words about thoughts that you have: think, believe, like, love, hate, imagine, hope, remember, know, guess, feel, wish, forget, recognise, learn, perceive, decide, understand, miss, appreciate, and surprise are all mental state verbs.

These mental states are not always something that we can observe or see others doing. For example, you can’t necessarily observe someone imagining, guessing or forgetting. Because of this they can be more difficult to learn and understand—unless we have lots of practice using them and hearing other people use them in a variety of contexts. Use mental state verbs while you communicate with your child. Explain your own thoughts, beliefs and feelings as you go about your day. Every time you interact with your child, you have an opportunity to put into words what you are both thinking and feeling. These types of conversations will deepen your child’s understanding of his/her own thoughts and feelings, how others may have different thoughts and feelings from theirs, and how we all act based on what we are thinking and feeling. (

Activity ideas might include but are not limited to:

  • Pretend Play 
  • Reading Books 
  • Play Hide and Seek 
  • Linking Toys/Food and Mental State Words: Bring together a few different objects—toys, books, clothes, anything—and pick one that you like and explain to your child why you like it. Encourage your child to then choose one that they like and give reasons why they like it. Then have them guess which one their sibling or other parents might like, and follow by asking the sibling or other parent which one they like. Are the answers the same?

Before you begin, take a moment to consider the environment and what will work best for your child based on their specific hearing needs. 

Is hearing assistive technology (hearing aids, cochlear implant, SoftBand hearing aid, Bone Anchored Hearing Aid, Mini-Mic, Roger technology) being worn and working properly? 

Does your child need to see your face while communicating? 

Try to create an optimal listening environment. Sit or stand where your child has access to your face, sounds, and signs. 

Where possible, reduce background noise and distractions (dishwasher running, a room fan, the television on, etc.). 

Encourage communication by talking or signing (or use both) while you do an activity.


Tips: **Pick one or a few of these tips to focus on each time you play. 

  • Communicate about what happened earlier in the day, week, month, or year, while incorporating mental state verbs (like, think, want, etc) while doing these activities. Example: “We wanted to do something special for James for his birthday. We knew he liked going to the zoo. We remembered the last time we went to the zoo together; James told us that he felt so happy to see the crocodiles because they are his favorite animal.” 
  • Discuss the causes and consequences of feelings. Example: If I throw a toy at mom she will be mad. 
  • Practice identifying others emotions and use words to express them (happy, sad, mad)
  • Follow your child’s lead –  You can’t teach your child if you are talking about or playing with things that your child is not interested in or attending to. Observe your child’s interests and then get down to his or her physical level so that you are face-to-face. This will help your child pay attention to you and tune-in to your facial expression. Give up your ideas of what he should do or how he should play, and join in his play by copying his actions and adding to his or her play ideas.
  • Put your own and your child’s perspective into words. Imagine what your child is wanting, thinking or feeling, and say something about it, like “oh, you want a cookie”, “Don’t worry. You thought I was gone, but I’m here!”, or “I’m upset because you threw your toy”. You can also explain why other people do the things they do – for example, “Sally looks happy. She must really like her present”.
  • Role play with your child –  Stay in role when you role play together. For example, if you are pretending to be a doctor and your child is the patient, say and do things a doctor would do, and avoid being a real-life parent for the moment.
  • Use books to talk about the characters’ thoughts and feelings – Talking about the characters’ thoughts and feelings, their different ideas and reactions, and what characters might do next. 
  • Connect ideas to the child’s own experiences. For example, if you are talking about a character that looks sad because she lost her favorite toy, you could connect that to a time when your child was sad because he/she lost something special. 
  • Explain to your child that the seeker must guess where the other player is hiding, because they don’t know where they are hiding and have to try to find them. Encourage your child not to call out their hiding place when it’s their turn to hide. Explain to your child that we might know things that others might not, and that other people might know things that we might not.


Repetition is key to building language skills – so have fun playing this everyday activity many times this month!


Consider how quickly a seed transforms from a seed to sprout to a blossoming plant. This is similar to your child’s brain during the first few years of life. During this period, the earlier the introduction of language the better the brain develops capacity for language acquisition and communication. Early language learning experiences affect other areas of development and are critical to a child’s future success. Language is necessary to many other aspects of development, including cognitive, social and psychological development.

 Research outcomes show that high levels of family involvement have been found to produce greater language development outcomes in deaf and hard of hearing children. The language enrichment activities on this page are to provide you with suggestions and ideas for fun, engaging ways you and your child can play with the intent to expand your child’s vocabulary during this critical stage of development. We would love to hear your feedback on the activities, and are here to support you as you do these. Feel free to send us a video of you doing an activity with your child, or contact us with comments or questions. 

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Signs of the Month: Sun, Bike

First 100 Words

Getting Dressed

Everyday Words

Bath Time Signs

Bedtime Signs

Spring Weather Walk

Alphabet Song

All About Ladybugs: ASL Informational Videotext

All About Plants: ASL Informational Videotext

What the Sun Sees; What the Moon Sees

All About Plants: ASL Informational Videotext