Imitation In Children | What Great Things Can Children Learn By Imitating The Elders?

You’ll frequently hear me say that children learn through play and that you should provide open-ended materials to encourage exploration and discovery.

But it’s not completely true.

There’s a more important and primitive force at work that shapes your child’s learning long before she starts to experiment with makeup or collage, blocks, or natural materials:


We all know that our children copy others, for both good and bad.

But when does it start?

And what purpose does it serve?

It used to be believed that newborns could imitate an adult’s facial expressions, that imitation was innate. Stick your tongue out and your baby sticks hers out in response. New substantiation suggests that this skill may develop latterly but what’s beyond mistrustfulness is that by the time children reach 8 months, they can imitate simple actions. Shake a rattle or put your hands up to play peekaboo and your child will do the same.

How does your baby learn to imitate?

By watching you imitate her. Babies have veritably little control over their bodies. Lying under the baby gym, arms and legs delirium. A limb touches a jingly toy – how exciting!

But which limb was it?

How can this new experience be repeated?

When you’re just a few months old, this kind of motor collaboration is hard.

But what if you repeat the movement yourself?

Your baby smiles; you match her expression.

Your baby claps; you match her action.

Make eye contact. Show that you’re engaged. Copy her facial expressions. Repeat the sounds she makes when she babbles. You’re drawing her attention to what she has done, which helps her to reproduce it latterly. And in this way, she ultimately learns to copy you. She has learned to imitate.

Deferred Imitation

At first, infants simply mimic what’s in front of them. But soon enough they learn to postpone imitation, to do it hours or indeed days later, without the original model to copy.

There’s debate about what age children start to make mental representations of actions or conduct. Before this point, true imitation is not possible because you can’t replicate something you don’t remember. Your memory has to develop to the point where you can record what you see so that it can be repeated later.

Once you can retrieve actions from your memory, it becomes possible to reenact them using different objects. Yesterday I watched you bang a barrel with a beater. The moment I remember what you did and use a rattle to bang it rather. The rattle stands in for the beater.

And so deferred imitation ultimately leads to symbolic play.

How can I help my child get better at imitative play?

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