The Imitation Skill: Baby See, Baby Hear, Baby Do

Mimicry or imitation is one of the best techniques to learn especially to learn new skills and words. That is exactly what your baby is doing.

To mimic, imitate, copy, and follow is an action where we all have done at any moment of our live. It is also something we often see little children do. People say you have to watch your words around kids lest they copy you and that is true.

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The Imitation Skill

Study shows that babies don’t start their imitation game at the get go. They would mostly start to imitate when they are 1 year old and older. Furthermore, to imitate action or speech is a natural ability that all of us possess like a built-in feature since birth.

However, your child still needs to learn how to utilize this ability. The skill to imitate is an essential part or tool for your child to develop their language, and social skill.


Encouraging Imitation in Learning

First and foremost, you would need to activate the skill. You can do this by encouraging your child to imitate you early on.

According to experts, a child would first mimic body movements before they start to copy speech. This is a great way to practice imitation with them. Copying simple physical gestures can help your baby to learn and control their body which will also improves their motor skill.

Motor skills

Motor skills are the ability to move and coordinate the body. It helps us to move and perform everyday abilities. Your child will start to develop their motor skill since they are born. Poor motor skills can result to your child being clumsy while walking, unable to dress themselves without help, or difficulty to write properly.

Promoting Motor Imitation

Here are some ways you can do with your child in order to encourage them to start imitating you. It will also work better if you make sounds as you do it in order to catch your child attention and interest.

These gestures and movement are so simple that you can start doing them with your baby even before they reach the 12 month milestone.

1. Touching your nose with your hand or finger

2. Waving your hand

3. Clapping hands

4. Nodding or shaking your head

5. Placing your hand on your head

6. Opening your mouth or smiling

Note: don’t force your child or get upset when they are not interested at first few attempts.


Importance of Developing Imitation Skill

Developing your child’s imitation skill has its benefits. Research shows that imitation skill goes hand in hand with the development of motor skill and social skill.

1. Your child can learn new things quicker and easier.

Children with good imitation skill can pick up new skills quicker. They do not require long explanation to understand the new skill. They would easily learn it through observation of a demonstration.

2. Imitation is bonding

Your child trying to mimic your movement, actions, or speech are actually them trying to bond with you. It is natural for us to mimic something or someone that we like for instance how fans would copy how their favourite celebrity’s dress. It also shows that your child wants to be involve in what you are doing.

3. Developing a sense of independence

Being able to imitate what you are doing can help instil a sense of independence in your child. This independence comes when your child feels that they are “big” enough to accomplish what you can do. Giving positive reinforcement can promote confidence in your child too!

4. Language becomes easier

Essentially, the imitation skill can improve your child’s ability to learn a language. If you observe, children speak the way their parents do. From the words they use to the way they say it, it can be like a mirror. Infants that develop good imitation skill often has better vocabulary and fluency.

Stages of Imitation.

As previously mentioned, the imitation skill is learned. When developing a skill, there are stages of it that you can observe.

For younger infants, those age 18 months or younger, teaching them to imitate simple gesture imitations or gross motor imitations such as touching their nose and putting the arms on the side are some things that you can try first.

For words, you can try asking them to mimic the word “mama” or one syllable words such as car, oh, or wow. Playing with toys and doing repetitive moments while playing are small steps in developing the skill.

When your child is getting better at doing these things, they are ready for the next stage.

Toddlers who are more advanced can start doing more refine actions that involves controlling their body parts such as their fingers more. For example, teaching them to hold a pencil properly.

During this stage, you can also observe that your child is imitating their social environment especially with their peers. They will imitate how to play a game in the playground for instance. Sometimes, your child may not imitate immediately but you can see them doing or saying things they have observe a few days or weeks later.

Taking note of your child’s imitation stages can help you determine how to handle them according to their skill development.


Note: You can start with mimicking sounds before going into words if your child seems to not be getting it yet.

Games & Activities to Do


Peek-a-boo is a classic game you can play with your baby or toddler. You can also make different facial expression when you peek to see if they will copy you looks.

Rhyme dancing

Dancing or doing defined gestures while listening to nursery rhymes and encourage your child to follow what you do.

Simon Says

You can use this game to tell your child to follow your gestures and pose or even words.

Playing dress up

Putting on make up step by step with your toddler or doing manicure can help with your child’s motor skill.

Reading or Writing

Reading and letting your child join actively like flipping the pages or imitate the sounds of the characters can help with their development.

You can deny that mimicking what they see and hear are what toddlers do best, but it is all part of learning and development. So instead of trying to implement complicated teaching techniques, you can use this as a tool for you to teach your baby new stuff!


Research Reference:
Jones S. S. (2009). The development of imitation in infancy. Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences364(1528), 2325–2335. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2009.0045
Dadgar, H., Alaghband Rad, J., Soleymani, Z., Khorammi, A., McCleery, J., & Maroufizadeh, S. (2017). The Relationship between Motor, Imitation, and Early Social Communication Skills in Children with Autism. Iranian journal of psychiatry12(4), 236–240.

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