How to Raise Your Child to be the Best Version of You
I don’t know about you, but I used to always lose in the game of Simon Says. Especially when Simon would do all of the actions himself to trick you! I would always just imitate Simon’s action, even though you are only supposed to imitate the action of Simon when he says the phrase “Simon Says.”
So why was Simon Says so hard to play (at least for me)? Am I just a natural-born follower?
Yes and no. For decades, developmental psychologists have shown that humans are wired to imitate others' behaviors. In fact, a number of studies show that our inclination to imitate others is actually present at birth  and continues throughout adulthood . Have you ever noticed yourself copying the accent, body language or mannerisms of another person without meaning to do so? I know that when I am around people who grew up in the south, my accent begins to have a bit of a twang (apparently, I'm not the only one who has this problem... Talking to you Hillary ;).
All of the above highlight the fact that we are expert imitators! Some scientists even say that we have specialized neurons in the brain dedicated to imitating others’ actions, called mirror neurons . Case in point, we end up acting like our parents, even though some of us try not to (I actually try to be like my mom because she is the best human being on this earth… I am still working on it though!).
With that being said, your child’s inclination to imitate behavior is the biggest tool you as a parent can use to your advantage. Parents spend a lottttt of time teaching children things. How to say thank you. How to be kind. How to tie shoes. And while a lot of skills need to be explicitly taught, a lot of things children learn from observing and imitating you . Ever heard a child say a bad word? Yeah, I bet ya the parent did not intentionally teach them that 😉
Given this information, the best advice I can give a parent is to model behavior they want their child to exhibit. It might sound cliche, but I promise you, this will be one of the best decisions you can make for your child. If you want your child to look at people in the eyes, look at your child in the eyes when you speak to them. If you want your child to say please, thank you, and smile, use these when you speak to your child.
One of the biggest mistakes I observe in parenting is when parents are disrespectful to their children, yet expect them to be respectful back. While I completely agree that children should always be respectful, humans are made to imitate, and we will simply copy the behaviors that we observe in others [4, 5]. And I get it… A lot of the times parents will be frustrated, stressed or mad, and this is when all the formalities might go out the door. No judgment there! But I think understanding how your child’s brain works, and the fact that they do learn through imitation, might give you a different point of reference in terms of how you behave or talk around your child.
This brings me to the last key point. Your child is probably going to be THE BEST mirror you will ever have. They will talk like you, make faces similar to yours, and treat others like you do. So if you notice a behavior you don’t like in your child, it is a good way to examine how you yourself behave. That is not to say that ALL of your child’s behavior comes from you. Kids do have behaviors that they did not observe from anyone. They come with personalities, temperaments and the ability to think and reason and create! But it is important to understand that they can't help but imitate you, so a lot of behavior, language and mannerisms will come from you or whomever your child spends their time with.
By keeping in mind that humans are wired to imitate behavior, your child will not be the only one to benefit.... You will also take steps towards becoming the best version of yourself!
Summing things up in three brief points
1. Humans are wired to imitate others
2. Children will imitate you whether you want them to or not (they can't help it!)
3. The best way to get the behavior you want from your child is to model it
Things to Consider
1. Talk to your child with respect (golden rule comes to mind :))
2. Strive to be the person you would want your child to be like everyday
3. Remember that parenting is a work in progress and so is your child’s development!
Disclaimer: While we mostly report robust scientific findings that have been replicated, science is a constantly evolving field, meaning new findings might support or contradict previous findings. Scientists' interpretation of some findings may also differ. We thus encourage parents to be critical of all information before they choose to apply it or dismiss it.
1. Meltzoff, A. N., & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198(4312), 75-78.
2. Whiten, A., Allan, G., Devlin, S., Kseib, N., Raw, N., & McGuigan, N. (2016). Social learning in the real-world:‘over-imitation’occurs in both children and adults unaware of participation in an experiment and independently of social interaction. PloS one, 11(7), e0159920.
3. Iacoboni, M. (2009). Imitation, empathy, and mirror neurons. Annual review of psychology, 60, 653-670.
4. Shimpi, P. M., Akhtar, N., & Moore, C. (2013). Toddlers’ imitative learning in interactive and observational contexts: The role of age and familiarity of the model. Journal of experimental child psychology, 116(2), 309-323.
5. Cracco, E., Radkova, I., Brass, M., & Genschow, O. (2018). Automatic imitation of pro- and antisocial gestures: Is implicit social behavior censored?. Cognition, 170179-189. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2017.09.019