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Aug 8, 2013

Imitation with Children--Not About Flattery, But Learning

One of the beauties of childhood is the natural passion for learning about all things. Young children learn by exploring their environments and interacting with others. This leads to imitation. And, when a child learns to imitate, new doors open as he or she begins to demonstrate actions, expressions, and sounds/ words picked up from others. Imitation is a major milestone that most children develop naturally, though many children with developmental challenges will need additional support in reaching this milestone. 

So, how can you help your infant or child learn to imitate? The key is to focus on engaging and interacting with your child around his or her interests. We don't need to "teach" children for them to learn, but rather provide opportunities and an environment that will foster curiosity and exploration. 

The following are a few ideas to help you get started...

  1. Spend time every day (even if just 5-10 minutes at a time) playing with your child on the floor. Turn off your phone, forget about the laundry or emails you need to respond to, and allow yourself to focus and connect with your child in this moment. Every moment you connect, your child is learning!
  2. Take time to observe what your child does. What are his favorite toys? How does she respond to the sounds of the toys banging together? What are his intentions as he explores particular toys/ objects? The first step in building on your child's understanding of the world is knowing how your child thinks and what drives him or her. We learn by what motivates us!
  3. Explore imitating what your child does first, such as tapping the floor as your child does or repeating back a silly sound. Not only will your child get a kick out of you imitating his or her actions, but you will also help your child learn to imitate a wider range of actions, expressions, and sounds. If your child already knows how to do something, he or she will have an easier time imitating that action again and again.
  4. Once your child is engaged in a back and forth interaction with you -- imitating something he or she can already do, begin slightly varying the action or sound. If your child makes and "baba" sound, start making a "dada" sound or if your child taps a block on the floor then tap a block on another block. 
So connect with your inner child and start playing! Engaging your child in his or her interests will will lead to all sorts of possibilities, and will ultimately help your child learn from you and later from his or peers.