When Children Start Imitating Their Peers

It can be incredibly cute when babies and toddlers start to mimic those around them. After all, that is how children learn to talk and behave–by imitating those around them. When our children get to preschool or start being more social and making friends, however, they can start to pick up habits and traits from their peers that we are not so crazy about. What can be done when a child starts to imitate unsavory behaviors, speech patterns, and traits that are coming from the peer group?

The first thing to realize is that this imitation is incredibly normal! I am sure if you got a bunch of parents in a room, they could tell all sorts of tales of children imitating a friend, taking on mannerisms of a teacher and other behaviors. I found with my own children that it was usually the peers who were the most different from them, the ones who were doing things that they knew they could never get away with in our family–those were the ones they tended to attempt to mimic. And that was part of why it bothered me so much!

There are a few ways you can approach this one: you can try to ignore it and hope that it passes; the less attention you pay to the child when he or she is mimicking and imitating peers behaviors you don’t approve of, the more likely it is that he or she will get tired of it and stop. You can also set limits without focusing on the behavior too closely. For example, instead of saying something like: “I hate it when you act like Suzy! Stop that whining!” you can say something like: “Whining isn’t welcome in this house, please use your words without whining.” Keep in mind that while the behaviors and mimicry may be reminding you of another child, it is still your child’s behaviors that you need to tend to. Making comparisons or blaming another child for “making your child” act this way doesn’t really address the issue and it can be confusing to your child. You can stay neutral and decide if you want to ignore it or set a limit around what is acceptable in your house and what isn’t. Keep in mind, that children will be copying and mimicking others throughout their entire childhood–this is how they experiment, rebel, and try out different traits and behaviors to find out what fits for them.

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