Misunderstandings Misunderstood: False-Belief-Tasks

I really enjoy social skills interventions and cultivating a theory of mind skill set.  

  • Around age 4, children improve on tasks of theory of mind and are able to understand that someone may be acting based on a false belief about an object or event (Kloo et al., 2010).
  • False-belief understanding, independent of a child’s language ability and age, has been related to various aspects of social functioning, including one’s ability to engage in meaningful conversations, ability to resolve conflicts and maintain intimacy in friendships and overall social competence as rated by teachers (Astington, 2003).

How do I devise a quick assessment tool that will allow me to gain more understanding of a child’s skill sets?

I like utilizing “false-belief tasks” to gain more insight.  For example, when 3-year-olds see a crayon box contains candles, not crayons, they will state that they originally believed it contained candles, failing to acknowledge their false belief.  This would be a an appropriate response of a 3-year-old; however, it would be concerning if a 6-year-old failed to acknowledge his/her false belief.

Great research article (click pic to geek it up):


Keep in mind children are profoundly egocentric until around the age 7 and researchers continue to explore what might explain some of the variations in the age at which both typical and atypical children pass false-belief tasks.  A  variety of factors have been discussed in the literature: birth order or maternal communication style; executive functioning skill sets (not responding with the most obvious response based on the child’s own knowledge); and language skill sets.

How do I support these skill sets?

♦Idea:  I read a scenario, visually depicted, and then ask the child to identify the problem.  Initially, you will need to use verbal and visual prompting and scaffolding to guide the child through the process and explain the misunderstanding.


A mother and her young son returned from the grocery store and began putting away the groceries.  The boy opened the box of animal crackers and spread them all over the table.  “What are you doing?” his mother asked.  “The box said not to eat them if the seal is broken” the boy explained.  “I’m looking for the seal.”


It was the end of the day when a K-9 officer parked his police van in front of the station. While he was gathering his equipment, his K-9 partner started barking at a little boy staring into the van. “Is that a dog you got back there?” he asked the officer. “It sure is,” the officer replied.  Puzzled, the boy looked at him and then towards the dog.  Finally, the boy said, “What’d he do?”

Related TpT Resources:

Jenna Rayburn Kirk – Perspective Taking: Photo activities for emotions & thinking about reactions.

Pathway 2 Success – Perspective Taking Bundle

Vanessa Parkinson – Sally Anne First 1st Order Theory of Mind Test Story and Record Form.

Speech2U – Slam Dunk Perspective Taking: Speech Therapy, Pragmatics, Social language

Speech Me Maybe – No Prep Social Skills 

Smashingly Good Speech – First Order False Belief Perspective – Taking & Theory of Mind Flash Cards!

References Consulted:
Astington, J. W. (2003). Sometimes necessary, never sufficient: False-belief understanding and social competence. In B. Repacholi & V. Slaughter (Eds.), Individual differences in theory of mind: Implications for typical and atypical development (pp. 13–38). New York, NY, US: Psychology Press.
Kloo D., Perner, J., & Gritzer, T. (2010).  Object-based set-shifting in preschoolers: Relations to Theory of Mind.  In B. W. Sokol, U. Müller, J. I. M. Carpendale, A. R. Young, & G. Iarocci (Eds.), Self and social regulation: Social interaction and the development of social understanding and executive functions (pp. 193-217).  New York, NY, USA: Oxford University Press.


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