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.