When your child is just a few months old, you start teaching her skills that will egg her on in her developmental journey-right from showing her how to give a high-five to teaching her words by saying them out loud slowly so your child can imitate them. The good news is children are born with the innate ability to imitate. In fact imitation is their primary method of learning a new skill in the early years. However, all this imitation can be a double-edged sword for parents. Along with learning all the positive things, children also pick up behaviour that may not be ideal. For example, the next time you catch your child snapping at her sibling in a loud voice, you could attribute this form of expression to something she has seen you or your spouse do at some point. During the early years, parents are the child's primary teachers, and children will do as they see and certainly not as they're told!
According to the California Department of Education, by age 18 months, children typically imitate the actions of adults they observe, and by the time they are 3 years old, they are likely to re-enact situations they have witnessed. Apart from behaviour, children can begin to imitate mannerisms, food habits and in many cases even start fostering fears that you might have.
Here are a few tips to help you so that your child imitates habits that have a positive impact on their personality.
- Walk the talk: Its not enough to say you must read a story everyday, you need to start doing enough reading yourself, if you want your child to picking up the reading habit. Similarly for food, if you want your child to try new foods she needs to see you try and relish these new types of food too.
- Polish up your Ps and Qs: Instead of reminding your child repeatedly to use words such as please, thank you and sorry, it may be a good idea to make a conscious effort to use these magic words yourself. Your child is listening, no matter who you're talking to. So make sure to add a 'please' to your requests and 'thank yous' once you get what you want. You can be sure that your child will also pick up the cues and start being a polite converser too.
- Follow the same house rules: If TV time is limited to only 30 minutes a day for your child, ensure that you too are watching TV for only that much time, else you are likely to be asked sooner than later why the rule should be different for you.
- Explain your actions: Sometimes, it can be impossible to put in practice what you teach your child. We all teach our kids to be honest, but we all also lie once in a while to get out of a social obligation. Kids are smart enough to pick up on lies. Instead of letting them think it is acceptable behaviour, sit them down and explain the reason for your lie.
As time goes on, your child will also have other role models in her life who can have an immense influence on your child's behaviour. And not all of it may have a positive impact. However, if you've been her primary role model for most of her growing years, she's more likely to let go of the negative behaviour she may have picked up along the way. So watch your step, because your child is definitely watching and learning!