Help Your Child Develop Imitation Skills: Part I

Reference: by Leslie S. McColgin
Communication Skill Builders, Inc

What is imitation?

Imitation is the ability to copy the behavior of another person.

How do imitation skills develop?

1.  One of the earliest forms of imitation is called “mutual imitation”.  This means that your child imitates you only when you have imitated the child first.  Parents often play “babbling games” with their child.  The child says “ga-ga” and the adult imitates “ga-ga”.  The child enjoys this response and tries again; “ga-ga”.  The child has just engaged in mutual imitation.  Motor actions can be imitated in the same way.  At first, you will have to let your child start the imitation game.  As your child develops, you can start the game by babbling or making some action that you have heard or seen your child do often.  Your child still isn’t ready to imitate a sound or action that the child does not already know.

2.  Next, your child begins to imitate sounds and actions that are similar, but not identical to the child’s own.  For example, a child might babble “pa-pa.”  The adult playing with the child might open and close the mouth without making any sound.  At first the child might imitate this by babbling “pa-pa” again.  However, this may soon change to the child opening and closing the mouth just like the adult model.  The child will  “figure out” how “pa-pa” and opening  and closing the mouth are similar.  then the child will be able to imitate this “new” action.  This is the beginning of having a “thought” that is symbolic.

3.  Now the child experiments and explores with sounds and actions to make them more like the adult model’s.  The child imitates the adult more and more exactly.  Soon the child will be able to imitate sounds and actions that the child has never tried before.

4.  In the final stage, the child learns to imitate without a model.  This is called deferred imitation.  For example, a child once wanted to get a necklace out of a matchbox with a small opening.  First, the child tried turning it upside down and shaking it with no success.  Finally, the child sat down, mouth slowly opening and closing.  The child had imitated this movement before.  Mentally, the child saw how opening and closing the mouth and the matchbox were similar.  The child immediately opened the box!  The child didn’t need a model to imitate.  Instead, the child used a similar action to the one the child had imitated before.  At this stage children will imitate “housework” with toy brooms and dishes and perform many actions similar to those of Mommy and Daddy.

Part II will consist of teaching tips for parents in how to develop imitation skills in their child.

Refer to my facebook page for updated information.  The link is on my website at

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