Young children learn by copying you!

Infants and toddlers are the world’s best “copy cats.” Young children learn from their parents, caregivers and even from watching television.

Young children are paying attention to the world around them every waking moment. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Young children are paying attention to the world around them every waking moment. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Young children are paying attention to the world around them every waking moment. They watch how their parents and caregivers talk, eat, react to situations and interact with others. You are your child’s very first teacher! Infants and toddlers are amazing little students, remembering what their parents and caregivers do and say days and weeks later. You aren’t their only teacher, however, young children’s interactions with family, friends, babysitters and even what they observe on television is teaching children much more than you may realize. Michigan State University Extension reminds you how important it is to think carefully about what you say and do in front of your children, as well be aware of what television and media they observe, to be sure that what they are learning is what you want them to learn!

Research shows that young children are watching an average of three hours a day of television. Caregivers will often use television and movies to keep children occupied and many families report leaving the TV on all day long, even as the family moves on to other activities such as bedtime and meal times. Do you think your children are learning from their television viewing? Research says that they are! In fact, with as little as 20 seconds of television viewing toddlers as young as 14 months are able to repeat actions observed during videos. What do you think a young child could learn in an hour of viewing?

Young children can, and will, copy what they see happen on television. In an experiment done to see if children imitate what they see on TV, researchers tested 120 toddlers that were 14 or 24 months of age. Half of the children watched a short video of a stranger playing with a new toy by pulling it apart in the same motion three times. The other half of the children were split into two groups. One group watched a video of the stranger playing with the toy without taking it apart, and the other half did not watch a video at all. Of the 24 month olds that saw the video of the toy being taken apart, 90 percent took the toy apart just like the person in the video but of those would didn’t see the person take the toy apart, only 20 percent took it apart on their own. This is a clear sign that two year olds can imitate what they see on TV. In the younger children, 65 percent of those who saw the video of the toy being taken apart took it apart in the same way while only 30 percent took the toy apart on their own. This research is clear that babies as young as 14 months old will copy what they see on television and that children that are two years old are more likely to be imitating what they see, even when it is a stranger.

It’s clear that your young children are learning by copying you! What can you as a parent do? Here are a few helpful tips from MSU Extension:

  • Remember that your children are watching and copying everything you do. Choose your words and actions wisely. Be very careful about what you do and say. Set a positive example for your children, even when they are infants and toddlers.
  • Think of your home as your child’s first classroom. What do you want them to learn? Young children are learning from the “teachers” or people in your home right from the start.
  • Include your child in your every day activities and see those activities as an opportunity for learning.
  • Limit television. Remember that television is teaching your children. What might they watch and copy later? Think about what they are viewing and co-view with them whenever possible.

Every person your child sees is teaching them something. Enjoy their amazing learning abilities! Infants love to copy facial expressions. In fact, babies as young as just a few hours old can copy an adult who sticks their tongue out. If you smile, they will try to smile back. As babies get older, they get even better at copying your actions. Holding the phone like you do, brushing your hair, mimicking your actions, and copying your words and tone of voice.

Remember, you are your child’s first teacher. Our children watch and learn from us every day. Every waking hour your child is learning something. By being careful about what you say and do, you can be sure you are teaching your child what you want them to learn and begin to set them on the path to school and life success!

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