One of the primary ways young children learn behavior is by imitation. You, the parent, are teaching your baby from the very beginning of her life. Long before you see the actual behavior duplicated by your child, she is watching and taking in the behavior of you and all of those around her.
As she grows, you will see the results of her imitation behavior.
She pretends to read exactly as she sees her parents read, maybe even in the same chair. She uses some of the same facial expressions and even the tone of her voice has some of the sounds of her parents. She mimics her father’s shaving and mother’s putting on makeup.
You are likely to hear the anger and scolding she sees repeated as she becomes angry or scolds her doll in the same manner; the enthusiasm and loving gestures she observes become part of her play.
She watches how you are doing when things are good and when things are not so good. This is a part of imitation you need to remember. She watches you get along, but she also watches you when you aren’t doing as well as you would like her to remember.
If you are parents of an older child who is being punished for doing something wrong, she will remember that.
This kind of behavior is one she might try using against her older sibling in exactly the way she sees you deliver it. The arguments that cause voices to be raised teach her how she can express her unhappiness with her sibling. You need to be sure that it is the kind of behavior you want to see from her.
In the same way she watches your behavior with her sibling, she also learns how to ask politely for toys to put away or to ask him to put away his clothes nicely. She sees how you include him when it is time to read a book or play a game and she learns from that also.
Her imitation of you also comes out with animals in the house. If she sees your anger for the mess your dog makes or the mess your cat makes, you will see and hear her showing you that she listened to it and is now trying to do the same. Make sure you do it in a way you would like to see imitated.
You, as a parent, constantly present a model for her to imitate. It is important to remember that she watches your behavior and uses that as a guidepost for her own behavior. The imitating begins early and lasts through out the child’s growing years. This is not just something that happens in the preschool years.
Is there any doubt that you are your child’s first and most important teacher?
Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. For more information, email to email@example.com or call 360-681-2250.