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Imitation: The Beginning For Learning

Posted on July 08 2016

Imitation: The Beginning To Learning

Young kids usually have a high ability to imitate actions of others. It is one of the most important ways in which they learn and acquire new knowledge. Often, little boys copy their fathers and little girls model their mothers. But many parents see their sons trying on Mom's lipstick or their daughters 'shaving with Daddy. 

"At age 1, toddlers do what they see," Dr Nalven says. Gender identity doesn't usually start to emerge until about age 3. Mimicry begins at birth , for instance, many newborns copy facial movements such as sticking out their tongue. But age 1 marks the beginning of true imitation or imitation with intent. By age 1, children do understand that the actions they imitate do have a significance.

For 1-year-olds, imitation follows a four-step process

  1. Watching and listening
  2. Processing the information
  3. Attempting to copy a behavior
  4. Practicing.

Language development offers an example. When a 1-year-old forms simple words like baba, they are really imitating the sounds they hear around them. Over time, after countless repetitions, they process this information.

"Toddlers start to narrow down the sounds to ones that make sense, like Mama for Mommy," Dr Klein says. Then they keep practicing until they can use the word in a particular context.  Thus along with learning imitation/mimicry creates a bonding between the parent and the child.

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them." - James A. Baldwin


Imitation is also a stepping-stone to independence. 
As they copy, toddlers realize, ‘Wow! Am I not great? I must try this again and again’. Eventually 1-years-old begin not just to imitate but to act out of self-motivation.

Among the various actions possible, toddlers most love to imitate household activities, such as sweeping the floor and wanting to be around the parent that cooks food. You will also find 1-year-olds grooming themselves like brushing their teeth or hair when their parents do. When your little one plays at being you, whatever she imitates she learns. So it is important to keep a few points in mind.

Important Things To Remember 

  1. Be a good role model. "Parents of toddlers are under constant observation," Dr Klein says. "During this critical developmental period, it's important to model your best behavior." Whether it's eating well or giving up cigarettes, adopt positive behaviors.
  2. Monitor your child’s actions. There are times when your child might start imitating negative actions. At such times you would need to distract and replace those actions by providing a more positive environment.
  3. Make safety your top priority. Distract when necessary. Sometimes it's frustrating having a little imitator around, especially when he/she makes a mess.
  4. Give attention to your child for his/her efforts. This helps encourage performances.  When your child is trying to copy you and you encourage that, they will repeat it. This will strengthen your bond with your child and also help make happy moments more often. 


-Happy Parenting!


About The Expert

Namrata Jain is our Consulting Psychologist at Brainsmith. She has a Masters in Psychology from Mumbai University and has worked with children and adults to help them achieve a better state of mind by encouraging healthy mental and behavioural growth.