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Beliefs are our ideas about how the world works, and beliefs are at the center of how we get to know ourselves and others. What we believe is cultivated by repeated experiences, which become the basis of generalizations in our minds—generalizations about how the world works.

Mental models and generalized beliefs are important because they are both active and constructive. Beliefs continuously affect and are changed by new interpersonal experiences influencing what we think we want, what we expect from other people, how we perceive others, and how we respond to situations.

When you reflect on beliefs with your children, remember that even young children have ideas about how the world operates. Parents can explore these beliefs by asking questions, particularly open-ended ones: “How do you think this works?” “Why do you think he was crying at the playground?” “How did you think about it then, and how do you think about it now?” “Why do you think that happened?”

As you listen to your children, try to leave your mind open. Really listen to your child’s point of view about the world. The simple ways we interact with children as we communicate with them affects their mental models and beliefs about themselves and others.

Remembering the future . . .

Mental models allow our minds to be what some researchers call “anticipation machines,” predicting the future based on what has occurred in the past. The brain is ready to respond by anticipating what the next moment brings, and this anticipation initiates a behavioral response. The interactions your child has with you influence his or her mental models.