Parents of Toddlers: Lots of Mimicry means you’re doing a great Job.

Parents often worry about how things are going for their children. It is hard with so many contradicting opinions and views on parenting to really know how we’re doing.

(I do plan to write the second ebook on why this happens and look at the different approaches to parenting,teaching and advising. Time. Sigh.)

What is good is that there are some sure signs that things are going well – no matter which advice we are following. The first, which I hammer on about all the time, is if children can maintain warm and constant eye-contact with their mothers (main-caregivers) without prompting or teaching.

Another key with toddlers is the amount of time they spend mimicing their mothers (main-caregivers). [While all mammals and some birds mimic the object of their affection, it is the degree to which our children do this that I am focussing on in this post.]

Mr Butterfly (21 months) is right in the middle of this stage and it does drive me crazy at times. But this is exactly what he needs to be doing at this stage of his development so I take a deep breath and know that this too will pass.

I have become the mother who cleans the loo every day (call it having sons) and who vacumms every day (call it having children). And although I can usually stop Mr Butterfly from flicking the toilet-brush around everywhere, he does like to get in and have a swish around when I’m not looking and someone (let’s say an older brother) hasn’t closed the door after they’ve been.

Mr Butterfly also becomes excited when the vacuum-cleaner appears (clearly not my real son). I usually get it out before I need to use it so that he can have a turn first. I go and do something else and by the time I’m finished my chore so is he and I can vacuum properly. (He did scream about the noise until he was older than 18 months as did the older boys. We simply didn’t vacuum every day then and waited until someone could take the screamer for a walk while the other parent did the work, let’s say once a week. *wink*)

Mr Butterfly likes to work alongside me while I sweep (he has his own small broom and will put some imaginary dust into the bin using the half-brush and shovel). He gets a bowl out when he sees me preparing food for him. He puts his dirty cup back into the cupboard when he’s finished drinking. He spends as much of his day hammering (just like Daddy), or cutting or sanding as he can. He draws (just like his brothers) and climbs like they do and rides his little sit-on and scoot-along-the-ground bike.

 I know of at least one parent who decided that doing these things wasn’t ‘educational’ enough for her child, so put him into daycare so he could learn stuff. She simply didn’t realise that mimicry was a sign that her son felt a strong emotional connection to her and was showing her that he trusted her to ‘teach’ him how to manage the world. She also enforced other times of disconnection, which probably haven’t been useful for him. Interestingly, with that same child – who at the age of two showed he was well connected to her, she now has (disconnection) behavioural issues.

Education is great. I’m all for it. But toddlers don’t really need to be learning their alphabet, colours, shapes and numbers. These are important but they are not urgent. Let’s get education into perspective! For healthy development, toddlers truly need to be following us around and mimicing what they see. They need to be with someone who engages them in conversation and listens to what they have to say, then responds to show they have been properly heard.

The key to all this is connectiveness. Emotionally connected toddlers will mimic their parents more than toddlers who aren’t as emotionally connected. It’s a matter of degree – the greater the connection the greater the amount of mimicry. The  mimicry shows that they trust their parents will guide them properly. The mimicry shows they feel safe. The mimicry shows they want to be just like their parents and they enjoy our company. I kinda like that.

So whomever you follow for your parenting advice – be assured, that a toddler who has warm and constant eye-contact with their main care-giver (without prompting) and who engages in lots of mimicry – is doing just fine.

(This is officially how I help put food on the table. If you’ve found this article useful, please feel free to use the Koha button just above my blogroll. Even the smallest amount is appreciated. 🙂 )

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About Karyn @ kloppenmum

kloppenmum is me, Karyn Van Der Zwet, mother of three and ex-teacher. I'm part of a revolution in parenting, with the aim to raise mature (not sophisticated) and self-assured children. I also know some stuff about adults. I have also had articles printed in The Journal for The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (Children and Young People) and the US parenting magazine, Pathways to Family Wellness, as well I regularly write for World Moms Blog (named as one of the Forbes 100 most useful blogs for women 2012 &2013). You can follow me on facebook (kloppenmum) pinterest (Karyn at Kloppenmum) and twitter (@kloppenmum). I'm also vaguely on LinkedIn (Karyn Van Der Zwet). Thanks to Joe (Mr Hare) for taking the photo. Cheers, son: xxxx.
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14 Responses to Parents of Toddlers: Lots of Mimicry means you’re doing a great Job.

  1. “She simply didn’t realise that mimicry was a sign that her son felt a strong emotional connection to her and was showing her that he trusted her to ‘teach’ him how to manage the world.” That’s incorrect. Mimicry is neither an indicator of strong emotional connection nor trust. Offspring (including animals) mimic because it’s within their biological wiring to do so, a survival mechanism and route to development.

    • Hi there allycat,
      I will have to go back and make sure that my post is a little clearer I think. Mimicry happens in all mammals (and some birds in a more basic way), you’re correct, and it is a function of emotional connection (it’s absent in reptiles for example). Other mammals, it could be said, are also showing their trust of their parent by mimicing them – those who have been raised in captivity still trust the object of their affection to show them how to behave, even if that object is a human who cannot properly do so. What I was getting at here was the degree of mimicry – children who feel highly emotionally connected spend more time following their parents and siblings around and copying them. It is a massively important stage for toddlers to go through and fully experience for all sorts of reasons (eg the imaginative play aspect that hakea mentions in her comment). Thanks for your comment, you always help me to be clear in my thinking. 🙂

      • No one, including I, can help another be clear in his/her thinking (because it is an internal private act) only in clarifying and articulating his/her thoughts. That said, I remain steadfast that mimicry (at these very young and developmental stages being discussed) is not based on trust. It is biologically wired, a survival and developmental mechanism. You are rendering trust as a foregone conclusion and necessity in earliest development. It is not.

        • I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point, allycat.

          • hakea says:

            Konrad Lorenz and Lev Vygotsky are some theorists who discussed the purpose of imitation and learning within the social context. Lorenz is taught in all Psychology 101 courses, and Vygotsky is highly regarded amongst early childhood educators.

  2. hakea says:

    Hi Karyn

    I’ve been reading your posts but haven’t been commenting as I’ve been doing lots of parenting theory at work and like to break from it during intense work periods.

    Mimicry is one of the sub-stages of symbolic play, called dramatic play, and preparation for sociodramatic play (Parten).

    Have you read Hart & Risley’s (1995) research on frequency of language in the home? It’s magnificent, I think you’ll love it. The book is Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experiences of Young American Children.

    • I understand you would need a break! Thanks for these references. I now have a long, long list of things to read… I agree the connection between mimicry and imaginative play is so important – in that the children are developing their ability to realise that other people have a focus, an emotion state and an intention while they perform their daily tasks – which might be similar or different from their own. So much to say and so little space!
      Hope you’re enjoying your theory work – look forward to catching up on your posts. With time…:)

    • I understand you would need a break! Thanks for these references. I now have a long, long list of things to read… I agree the connection between mimicry and imaginative play is so important – in that the children are developing their ability to realise that other people have a focus, an emotional state and an intention while they perform their daily tasks – which might be similar or different from their own. So much to say and so little space! Hope you’re enjoying your theory work – look forward to catching up on your posts. With time…:)

  3. Yulia Yudith says:

    Hi Karyn, I can see that on my both sons, they are not only following my husband and me but they are also following each other.

  4. Ahhh, a parenting post that makes me feel great, thanks. Sometimes I feel like I’m going nuts, never getting anything done, because my two-year-old loves to imitate everything I do. I sweep a pile and she gets her little brush and sweeps it all around the floor again. She wants to help with every peg on the line, pouring milk, wiping mirrors next to me, and if I put creme on my legs she wants some too …. I’m going to remember why this is important (and a lovely sign of trust) next time it happens – probably tomorrow!

    • Insantiy and toddlers (in imitation of us) go hand-in-hand I’m absolutely sure of that – it’s that intensity of frustration that you just don’t seem to get in any other situation. I’m so over it too, but also try to remember how important it is. Thanks for your continued support – it is appreciated. 🙂

  5. Leila says:

    I came to this page because I had to look up why my toddler was sitting right next to me, acting as though he was typing on his imaginary keyboard, stopped… looked at me, I looked at him, and he begins mimicking by putting his hand on his hip, as I was doing. He was doing it movement for movement, facial expression to facial expression… I laughed then he giggled.

    His dad then said, “hey, get over here.” Jokingly, as he doesn’t want his son to act feminine. No worries, I just had to read about what is studied about toddlers mimicking their parents.

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