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Why does your child imitate you?

little boy pretending to mow the lawn as his father

Key points:

  1. Imitation plays a crucial role in a child’s socio-emotional development, influencing their habits, expressions, points of view, word choices, and decision-making processes.
  2. Parents serve as primary role models, shaping a child’s understanding of the world and influencing their beliefs and behaviors. Children observe and internalize reactions, emotions, and gestures, building the foundation for their own habits and moral compass.
  3. Effective communication is key to being a positive role model. Words, tone, actions, and the meaning behind them (WTAM) are essential considerations.
  4. Parents contribute significantly to a child’s understanding of relationships and values. Modeling kindness, respect, and empathy, as well as engaging in group activities and discussions about friendships, helps children build a strong foundation for future social interactions and relationships.

Have you noticed that when you do something, your little one wants to do the same? If you have a little child, one of their favorite activities is probably imitating you when you’re putting on your makeup, or they might love to accompany your partner while they shave and pretend they do too. Your child’s wish to be like their parents is one of the most influencing characteristics of their emerging personality. This process of identification with you is a critical part of your little one’s socio-emotional 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 child 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 their future expressions, habits, points of view, word choices, and decision-making processes.

You are your child’s role model. It’s through you that they understand how the world works and learn what’s okay and what’s not. What they see in you makes up for what they believe in and what they’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 their way of learning.


Your little one begins developing their 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 them 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 them why it’s not possible for them to wear their 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 they can express themselves and better understand their feelings. This process, although it might feel time consuming, is transcendental in the fostering of their confidence and future decision-making processes.

Not only are you fostering their growing thinking skills but laying the foundation of how they will carry on their relationships in the future. From the moment they were 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 them that it’s important to help others while you open the door for someone, it’s much more likely they’ll remember this in the future.

At this age, they learn through your actions, gestures, and body language. In their 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 them simple things such as saying thank you and being respectful, are helping them 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 them. If your family is big on community service or any traditions, model the attitudes and the purpose behind them.
  • Explain your thought process to them so they can understand the do’s and don’ts when it comes to their behavior.
  • Set a challenge for yourself and identify things to model in every day interactions.
  • Acknowledge their feelings when they’re frustrated and support them with patience. Your modeling will familiarize them with being kind and caring.
  • Make time for friendship and talk about what being a good friend means. Talking about their friends will evoke positive emotions and make them feel emotionally secure when building relationships.
  • Group activities help them understand the importance of cooperation and nurture their relationships.
  • Help them see different perspectives in a situation and the positive outcomes of them. This fosters crucial skills they’ll need throughout their life, such as mental flexibility and self-control.

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

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