Have you noticed that when you do something, your little one wants to do the same? If you have a little girl, one of her favorite activities is probably imitating mom when she’s putting on her makeup. If you have a little boy, he might love to accompany dad while he shaves and pretend he does too. Your child’s wish to be like mom and dad is one of the most influencing characteristics of his emerging personality. This process of identification with you is a critical part of your little one’s socioemotional development. Let’s learn why.

We all know the phrase “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. For better or for worse we know cycles repeat themselves and we see how children grow up to be much like their parents. Now that you have a son you might have experienced this “Aha!” moment in which you realized how much you are like your parents and how this reflects on your parenting style. You might have realized that some of your great habits come from them, and that you have picked up some things that you don’t like so much. Those are the result of all the situations and daily interactions that you internalized when you were a kid; a time when you used to imitate your parents as well. Imitation at this age helps your little one pick up on the more subtle and abstract information that lays the basis for his future expressions, habits, points of view, word choices, and decision-making processes.

You are your son’s role model. It’s through you that he understands how the world works and learns what’s okay and what’s not. What he sees in you makes up for what he believes in and what he’ll become. Think about how you manage your emotions. Do you become irritated when something doesn’t go your way? When you are stuck in traffic, are you modeling irritation or patience? Your child picks up on every reaction and gesture you make; this is his way of learning. Your little one begins developing his habits and moral compass by watching you do the same. If you impose limits using phrases like “because I said so”, you might later hear your kid respond with a “because I want to” thinking that it is a sensible response. It’s important for your little one that limits and the modulation of emotions come with an understanding. The best way for him to understand the reason behind which things are okay and which aren’t, comes with two of the most important words right now: “how” and “why”. When you sit down and explain to him why it’s not possible for him to wear his swimsuit to the grocery store in a sympathetic manner, you model thorough thinking skills and positive emotional responses. Through these, your little one is able to feel he can express himself and better understand his feelings. This process, although it might feel time consuming, is transcendental in the fostering of his confidence and future decision-making processes.

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Not only are you fostering his growing thinking skills but laying the foundation of how he will carry on his relationships in the future. Since he was born, your little one is sensitive to your honesty, the way you treat others, how you respond to stress, and how you deal with everyday situations. If you teach him that it’s important to help others while you open the door for someone, it’s much more likely he’ll remember this in the future. At this age, he learns through your actions, gestures, and body language. In his daily forms of mimicking and interacting with you, your child creates brain building experiences about the rules for living. Your gentle ways and use of caring words, as well as actions when you teach him simple things such as saying thank you and being respectful, are helping him learn about loving relationships.

Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Keep 4 letters in your mind to become the best role model: WTAM (words, tone, action, meaning). Choose the right words, use the right tone, model the action, and explain the meaning.
  • Share your values and beliefs with him. If your family is big on community service or any traditions, model the attitudes and the purpose behind them.
  • Explain to him your thought process so he can understand the do’s and don’ts when it comes to his behavior.
  • Set a challenge for yourself and identify things to model in every day interactions.
  • Acknowledge his feelings when he’s frustrated and support him with patience. Your modeling will familiarize him with being kind and caring.
  • Make time for friendship and talk about what being a good friend means. Talking about his friends will evoke positive emotions and make him feel emotionally secure when building relationships.
  • Group activities help him understand the importance of cooperation and nurture his relationships.
  • Help him see different perspectives in a situation and the positive outcomes of them. This fosters crucial skills he’ll need throughout his life, such as mental flexibility and self-control.

Keep it up! You are his most important teacher and there’s a tremendous amount of significance in his motivation to be like you.

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