Parents: The Dark Side Of Mimicry

We mimic those around us from as early as 40 minutes old. I remember Craig holding a teeny-tiny Mr Hare in his arms and poking his tongue out at him – sure enough, within a very short space of time Mr Hare was returning the compliment. His mirror neurons had been ‘captured’ by Craig’s and his brain had created similar connections.

This ability to learn without realising we are learning can be very useful. The power of mimicry was recorded by Aristotle, and it seems logical that people were aware of it long before the Greeks ruled the world.

When Mr Owl, Mr Hare and I went outside to pick peaches on Sunday, this is what we saw:

Mr Butterfly was right in mimicry mode: hanging-out with Dad and learning about hammers. Mr B was learning in the most natural way a child learns [from another person] and I love seeing our kids in mimicry mode (ahhheeem, most of the time).

His brain was working (Quote: Peter Levine, PhD) like this:

“ I prepare to move, I act, I sense, I feel, I perceive, I reflect, I think and therefore I am.”

Generally we think of the positive side of mimicry or the humour when one of our little loves mimics something we’d rather they didn’t, but there is a darker side to mimicry.

Great new ideas or ways of looking at the world are easily dismissed when they don’t fit the boundaries of what ‘the group’ thinks is ‘right’ or ‘normal’. Anyone who has ever been on a badly chaired committee will know what is meant by, “If Columbus had an advisory committee he would probably still be in the dock.” (Arthur Goldberg, US Statesman) 

Prejudices are also fed and enhanced by mimicry: children who exclude others; adults who don’t want their boys playing in pink tutus; societies or sections within societies which truly believe that the colour of your skin means you are lesser; and so on.

We see this amongst groups of parents too: some believe that emotions are to be ‘sucked-up’ and children should fit their needs around those of their parents; some believe that children are to be indulged and petted beyond babyhood; some believe that doing loads of activities will give their kids ‘an edge’; some believe that children will learn to behave without any structure or boundaries.

This is not about opinion – it’s about who we are as people.

My challenge is always to keep out of a parenting ‘group’ : I’m not into Super Nanny, but I don’t like some aspects of Attachment Parent either; I love that our boys got to play full-time until the year they turned seven, but I also appreciate the academic challenges our Mr Hare has now that he’s 10. (Etc)

It’s not easy – I have been almost all of those parents in the list above – but successful parents are proactive. Proactive parents look for what Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) calls amber lights –warning signs that things aren’t going as they intended them to, and they make the tough call to change things.

The aim of this blog is to keep myself conscious of my desire to be a proactive parent, and to help others, who are open to challenging their ‘group’, find the confidence to do the same, by providing alternative tools or ideas.

If our children are mostly calm, well-mannered, self-assured, hard-working and pleasant for everyone to be around – we’re doing OK.

If not: amber light.


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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9 Responses to Parents: The Dark Side Of Mimicry

  1. Elena says:

    I often think about how much we are missing because of the biological imperative to discriminate from amongst all possible sensory input and focus on the deer we are hunting or the berries we are gathering. I think small children are really good at busting me out of my narrow utilitarian view and opening me up to reality again.

    Critical thinking seems an important safeguard against turning into a robot, and we do a lot of that around here. So much so that when my homeschooled children decide to go to school, I have to keep reminding the teachers that they’ve been working “outside the box” and will have to be allowed an adjustment period. This is the hard part about critical thinking — it keeps one from entering too far into any one group, because there is going to be something that just doesn’t make sense, and if you refuse to subscribe to it, then you become one of those rebellious outsiders.

    But I’d rather hang around outside with the thinkers than have to relinquish my ability to reason and decide for myself.

    I guess mimicry is best when done consciously and intentionally, but kids can’t always muster that sort of awareness, so we have to pay attention for them.

    • Couldn’t agree more! I really like your point about the adjustment period for your kids entering the state-school system again. I like hanging out on the edges too, certainly makes life more interesting – I think. 🙂

  2. BinoandFino says:

    Reblogged this on Bino and Fino and commented:
    I love this little piece from Karen @ Kloppenmum about how children mimic parents. She touches on the positive and possibly negative aspects of it.

    • Thanks Adamu! And Hi. It sounds as if everything is going well for you. I have been out in the wilds of dial-up internet, so it’s great to be back and catching up with everyone. 🙂

      • BinoandFino says:

        Hi Karyn. It’s always good to hear from you. Yes things are going well for Bino and Fino. More people are seeing it as it’s now on TV in the UK and South Africa and it’s great. Of course there’s a lot more work to be done. How are things going on your end?

        • That’s awesome news! You must really feel like you’re getting somewhere. 🙂 As for me – yes, it’s been an interesting year, and we have plans afoot…watch this space. 😉

          • BinoandFino says:

            What’s that saying? ‘May you have interesting times’ I’ll be watching! I hope you have a great ‘interesting’ year in a positive way.

  3. I like this post too Karyn! I’m a bit under the weather or I’d say more… ttys.

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