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When Kids Imitate Their Parents

When Kids Imitate Their Parents

This morning, my three-year-old came downstairs for breakfast and swiftly proclaimed, “This house is a mess!” I wonder where she’s heard that before.

The other day, my dad was explaining to my seven-year-old why jumping and climbing on Gramps like a living jungle gym is not a good idea. Gramps is getting older, and his body isn’t quite as resilient as it used to be. In response, my seven-year-old stated in a world-weary voice, “That’s just the way things are, Gramps.”

Our Children: Our Little Living Mirrors

It’s hard not to laugh when our kids come out with these things — statements so beyond their years that directly mimic things they’ve heard their parents say countless times. It seems like the best way to become aware of your own speech and gesture patterns seems to be to have a child. Eventually, you’ll find yourself looking in a living mirror — for better or worse.

Experts say that imitation with intent starts in toddlerhood, when children have developed the cognitive and motor skills to figure it out and their language and communication skills are exploding. I remember seeing my daughter suddenly become a cleaning machine, dusting every surface and wiping the floors as she’d seen mommy do. And my son would silently practice words he’d heard us say, before saying them aloud for the world to hear.

As if parenting weren’t hard enough already, we have to be aware that we are always under a microscope. Our kids will notice our inconsistencies in what we say to them and what we do around them, and the inconsistencies have as many consequences as our good modeling has power to influence. And in my experience, it seems like the kids are far more likely to imitate the things I do most frequently — and those are the things I do with the least awareness.

Of course we can’t be perfect all the time. Like I said, and you already know, parenting is hard enough already. But we can decide what we want most to instill in our children, and try our best to consciously live out those values.

For instance: if we want our children to be patient and kind, instead of grumbling or outright shouting at other drivers on the road, we can be patient and avoid harsh words — even with the driver who cuts us off or that person who went 10 miles an hour until finally slowing to almost a stop and turning left without a turn signal (not that I’ve ever been frustrated with such a driver while my kids were in the car!).

Have you discovered anything about your own habits when seeing your children’s imitation of you? Anything you try to consciously change with the awareness of those little eyes and ears?

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