Why Do Children Imitate?

Why Do Children Imitate?

  Autor Claudia Gabriela Dumitriu, psiholog Data: 20.01.2009

Why Do Children Imitate?
One of the most important and efficient learning methods is the imitation. Therefore, parents must always take into account the power of personal example when they educate their children, because it is important what they do properly rather than what they transmit by explanations and teachings, no matter they are focused on teaching or not. 

Generally, the human behavior is determined by factors such as: context, procedural knowledge, expectations and self-efficiency. The procedural knowledge - knowing what a certain behavior means- is gained by observing the behavior at a certain point, followed by practicing it. Once the procedural knowledge are gained, there is the self-efficiency, meaning that the person knows that she is able to do that thing and that the thing satisfies her expectations and others. 
No matter there is an intention or not coming from those who are examples, they have the power to penetrate the children hearts and minds, influencing, teaching and producing certain feelings. 

Among the educational methods, the power of example varies depending on age. Children at young ages imitate the most, thus assimilating the most behaviors. At a young age, the easiest is to choose the easiest learning methods, through senses, as they cannot understand completely what they are explained. The nature of children interests changes for every age period, and the imitation is streamlined according to these interests. At the age of 3-4, there occur the first moral assessments of behaviors in children, which are related to the closest world of children: the family universe. The moral development doesn't start with creating moral notions, but by acquiring some skills which imitate the family members' behavior first. Therefore, the child will know what good, bad, wrong or right is etc from the others behaviors. At preschool age, the tendency to imitate is very high and if parents are enough attentive to their children behavior, they will have the opportunity to self-perceive them and to observe behavior type shown by themselves, by observing the children behavior which has the role to mirror the significant people. If we observe the children play, we notice that this is an invaluable source of analyzing behavioral models we transmitted to them. 
Therefore, there are more reasons why children imitate, among which wemight mention:

The need for models 
Once the child has done the first steps in life, he needs example to imitate. Starting with acquiring the language and the behaviors up to complex actions, all things will remain unknown to the child if he didn't have behavioral models. It is an instinct which is the condition for the survival itself. In creating the own personality, a child is a constant explorer because of the need to be independent, to define himself. He experiments ways of being, feelings, postures which bring him closer to what he likes, what helps him identify what is unsuitable for him or difficult. This is why, the models he chooses are sometime further than his own family and extend to people he comes in contact with, who impress him or interest him. 

The parents authority 
In childhood, parents are the central figures of authority, and the way children relate to them will generally describe later the attitude of adults towards the authorities figures he gets into contact with- at school, at work, and in different social circumstances. In terms of the status conferred by authority, the child considers the parent as expert in everything he does, and this is why the parents behavior will be acquired no matter their nature, as coming from the person most suitable to be imitated. 

In childhood, the child identifies himself with the parent of same gender and consciously and unconsciously takes the behavioral models from him, on his way to shaping his own identity. We all know the habits of girls to use the make ups and the mother's clothes, and of boys to use the father's objects. Also, there are cases when children imitate less wanted behaviors such as smoking, alcohol consumption or aggressions. During the play with other children, they assume all types of roles according to what they have seen in the family. The behavioral models which were stocked early remain there although they don't manifest at the moment of acquiring them. The relational model of parents, with his positive or negative aspects, may be restored after the child is grown up and starts a family. If a child had an authoritative, aggressive and rigid father, we might see this type of behavior later, when he has his own children, in the way he educates them. 

I want to be grown up! 
We all probably remember the fact the when we were children, we wanted to be adult many times, because we considered the adult have more freedom, have the ability to do what they want, nothing if prohibited or impossible, they take decisions. This wish leads to an imitation behavior, to the experimentation of behaviors which are familiar to the adults. 

Mom, dad, I love you! 
By imitating the attachment people in his life, the child symbolically expresses his love for them, showing that he accepts them, appreciates them, he identifies with him or belongs to him, through his behavior. This is also a method to ask for love and acceptance, as their conduit actually means: "How can you not love me? I am like you!" 

Many times, children who are in community, observe the adults attitude towards the behaviors of other children. Thus they notice that some behaviors are rewarded, others ignored or punished. When a child needs attention, he will try all the behaviors which are meant to draw the attention and not only the positive ones. If he observes that another child who disturbs the group's activity receives the educator's attention, who reproaches to him, explains, asks him or threats him, it means that this is a manner to gain attention, and he can apply it. 
As a result, the children ability to imitate may be valued in order to efficiently transmit to them wanted behavioral models, in order to help them know themselves, discover and learn. But this might also be for the child's disadvantage, if the models he imitates are negative or dysfunctional, because once it is fixed, a behavior is difficult to be changed and needs much effort. 

Read the English version of this article: Why Do Children Imitate?