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Your children readily imitate the behavior of others, like talking and eating. How can you help your children learn through imitation? First, encourage a “show me how” attitude – you observe your toddler playing with blocks on the floor, so you sit down, play for a while, and demonstrate some of the possibilities for playing with blocks. You come back later and notice your toddler is doing some of the same things you had done. Later, while playing with some other toys, he asks, “Show me how to play.” He has picked up the idea of finding someone who knows how to play to imitate. Or, your grade schooler asks if he can use the electric hair dryer. You say, “I’ll have to show you how to use it.” He says, “I already know how. I watched you.”

Your children learn to be selective about whom they imitate, how to find people who know how, how to get other people to show them how, and how to express appreciation when someone has taken the time to show them how. Children who know when and how to find someone to show them how, and how to get them to show them, are a big step ahead of children without these skills.

You want to show your children how to do things, but may not want to do things for them. For example, a grade schooler wants to know how to do a particular arithmetic problem. You carefully show her how to do the problem. Did she really learn how, or did she simply “con” you into doing the problem for her? You say, “Now I want you to do another problem, to show me you really know how to do it.” She may object a little, but soon comes to understand once you have shown her how to do something, you expect her to demonstrate what she has learned. This encourages her to observe more closely and to really imitate the behavior.

Encourage your children to use reference books and other resource materials. They learn how to interpret diagrams, follow instructions, recipes, and the like. They gradually develop the skills of observing, reading, asking questions, and so forth.

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