Imitation in Child Development

Imitation in child development isn’t discussed often enough, yet it is a crucial aspect of your child’s formative years. Imitation allows your child to learn new things by watching the people around them. Most children learn speech, movements, and other skills by copying their parents, siblings, and caregivers.

In Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, he divided child development into four stages. And the first one on his list is the sensorimotor stage. This stage, according to Piaget, begins the moment your child is born and continues until they are two years of age.

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Some experts in the field of child psychology have criticized Piaget’s work, but generally, experts support his theory. Educators still use Piaget’s basic principles in their strategies for helping children learn in the classroom.

So, what exactly is the sensorimotor stage in child development?

This stage is when your child learns about their surrounding using their senses. During this stage, they touch, lick, and bang things together. They could also put things into their mouth. They learn through experience and not through instructions.

Piaget further divided the sensorimotor stage into six substages:

  1. Reflexive – Your baby’s reflexes will respond to touch and other types of stimulation. You will notice they will suck, grasp, or even smile.
  2. Primary circular reactions – Between ages one and four months, you will see your child kicking, cooing, and thumb-sucking. These movements lack meaning and are often done for sheer enjoyment.
  3. Secondary circular reactions – From age four to eight months, your baby will be able to shake a rattle, laugh, and use sound to express their emotions.
  4. Coordinating secondary circular reactions – By the time your child is eight months old, they will likely crawl, respond to noise and certain words, or imitate your speech.
  5. Tertiary circular reactions – Between one year and eighteen months, your child will be able to understand some of your questions and directions. At this stage they might also develop a liking towards certain songs or bedtime stories.
  6. Symbolic/representational thought – At eighteen months old, your child will likely be able to remember and repeat the words or actions they hear from other people from previous days. They might also be able to speak short phrases and make requests using one or two words.

Now that you understand the sensorimotor stage, you probably gained a better understanding of the importance of imitation in child development.

How to Encourage Imitation in Child Development

Imitation, based on Piaget’s theory, is evident during the fourth substage of the sensorimotor stage. So now, the question is, how do you encourage your baby’s development through imitation?

Here are some suggestions:

Make Face-to-Face Interactions a Priority

Sit face-to-face with your baby and make eye contact when doing peek-a-boo, clapping, and baby signs.

Imitate Using Toys

When your baby is playing with their toys, you can use the opportunity to teach them the power of imitation. For instance, if your child is banging two wooden blocks together, you should imitate what he or she is doing.


You can teach your child some moves by playing a song and demonstrating the moves yourself. Or you could also find some videos where there is a person dancing to a song. Some good songs for this activity are Baby Shark and Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Daily Routines and Activities

Encourage imitation in child development through daily routines. You can show your child how to use utensils when eating snacks, clean up the table after an activity, or put on shoes.

Singing Songs and Pronouncing Fun Words

Vocal imitation in child development is crucial. Language learning in children happens through imitation. One way you can help your child work on this important skill is to have them imitate you as you sing a song. You could also use books that have funny phrases.

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