Children Learn Behaviour by Imitation

Written By

Sudha Madhavi

Child learn behaviour through imitation.Nov5 2015.Final-02 Loading

Of late, we see a lot of dance shows on TV, with children, barely 6-7 years old, displaying sensuous gyrating movements, without understanding its meaning. It is often very embarrassing to watch these movements, since as elders, we are aware what these are supposed to signify.

There are two branches of psychology: Cognitive and Behavioural.  They both go hand in hand. A baby crying as soon as he/she exits the mother’s womb signifies that the signals from their senses are functioning and the baby needs to breathe for survival. Even a couple of minutes of delay can result in cause for worry on meeting milestones at later stages. Milestones have been identified to help assess the development of a child’s brain.

With every generation progressing, in line with the evolution theory, children have started meeting their milestones faster than their ancestors. Many factors are responsible for this. Exposure to different media, medication and nutrition to enable higher growth, change in society and family make up are some of these. There are a few negative factors as well, like the constant stress typical families undergo, break down in the family system, and parents’ inability to spend quality time with growing children. All these factors influence the super-fast babies, and ensure that they meet their milestones at an accelerated pace.

The result is that their intelligence quotient is high compared to other factors like social skills, behaviour, etc. Each and every factor is important to mould a child into becoming a good human being.

It is assumed that if physical behaviour is demonstrated on time, then the brain is developing appropriately. This is called behavioural development. Cognitive development happens almost silently on the side lines, wherein the child absorbs, internalises and mimics the actions performed by the actors in his/her environment.

Generally children below 5 years imitate behaviour or actions of the people around them, who they interact with. These could be their mother, father, grand parents, teachers at school, drivers ferrying them around, policemen, doctors, and other people they watch in their day-to-day life.  These people may not even interact with them directly. For example, children may imitate how a person kick starts his scooter, or spits on the road, even though nobody in the family demonstrates these actions. This behaviour is known as modelling, since they do not have the ability to think of these themselves.

We often see kids after they are back home from school imitating or role-playing their school teachers. The child tries to dress like the teacher or have the same voice intonations, use a similar stick to point out alphabets, write on the board and follow the same mannerisms as the teacher.  Other children may imitate a cartoon or a film character.

This action of the child implies:

  1. The child is trying to recollect what has been taught in school,
  2. improving communication skills as he/she tries to exactly imitate the teacher
  3. and thereby, bettering his/her social skills.

Therefore, role-plays are considered to be the best way to bring out emotions in children.  Play therapy is often used to treat children with anxiety and withdrawal symptoms.

As parents, we need to identify what are the external stimuli we want our children to mimic at a tender age. These are important since they form a person’s character. Stereotyping a particular behaviour is not the right way to go. For a child, he/she does not define that his/her mother is carrying out an act because she is a woman. These are roles or definitions that we as elders define and feed our children with our words. In today’s world, we need to look at activities as life skills and not as activities based on gender or caste/religion/ or other stereotypes.

Read Little Men and Women for a light-hearted take on this phenomenon.




Y. Sudha Madhavi, has been working as a child psychologist in various schools for the past 10 years. She is a Masters in Psychology from Madras University, and is presently running a centre called Taare Counselling, dealing with learning difficulties and behavioural issues in childrem. Sudha is also a trained Reiki practitioner.

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