Imitation and Language Development

Toddlers are constantly exploring and learning about the world. A child typically watches others and tries to copy what they are doing, whether it is pretending to do chores like Dad or following the actions of other children on the playground. This game of “copycat” is called imitation and it is an important skill that develops before words emerge. When children imitate our sounds and words, those words eventually develop into language. If your child does not have many words yet, imitation skills may be the culprit! Below are some tips for increasing imitation skills at home.

  • Sing songs: Songs are repetitive, fun, and a great way to encourage imitation. Songs with associated motor movements are great to build your child’s imitation skills. Go slow and make exaggerated movements to encourage participation! Some of my favorite songs include: Wheels on the Bus, Bubble Bubble Pop (Bubble, Bubble Pop! Fun circle time song for kids! – YouTube), and Itsy Bitsy Spider.
  • Imitate your child: Follow your child’s lead and imitate the play activities, actions, facial expressions, and sounds your child is making.By imitating the sounds your child makes, it not only helps improve their imitation skills, but it also models verbal turn taking.
  • Decreasing pressure to speak: When imitation is difficult for a child, they may shut down and not speak if they hear phrases such as “Jill, say ____” or testing types of questions, such as “what is that?”. Instead, model sounds (e.g., beep beep, animal sounds) and words during play activities.

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