When children are learning language, they learn by copying YOU. Children are typically able to copy really simple actions like clapping their hands by the time they are a year old. By the time a child is 2, he or she should be able to copy what you are doing while you play, like pushing a toy car behind you or popping bubbles with you. If your child is already waving bye-bye or using hand gestures when you sing, then he or she is already imitating you!

When a child isn’t imitating your actions very well, there are some things that we can work on to help them improve.  I’m going to teach you 3 different ways to help your child learn to imitate you.

1. I like to begin by first copying what the child is doing. If the child is banging his hands on the floor, I will get down on the floor and do the same thing. The important part here is that after I copy the action, I wait and look at the child. When he does the action again, so do I. You can repeat this activity with almost anything your child does throughout the day. You do not have to do this activity for very long, a few turns of back and forth action several times throughout the day will be very helpful! 

2. Before beginning this step, I always try to make sure that the child is in a good mood, so that he or she is more willing to interact. I like to have the child in a high chair or toddler desk so that they’re secure and I’m able to be eye level with them. 

In this method, I teach the child to imitate clapping their hands, or banging their hands on the table. Here’s how I do it:

I begin by saying the child’s name with a big smile on may face, then I say the action we’re going to be doing, in this case “CLAP”. While I say “CLAP”, I clap my own hands. Then I repeat the child’s name, say “clap”, and gently use my hands to help the child clap too. Once this short routine is complete, have a big party! I reward the child with hugs, say, “you did it!”, or give the child a goldfish cracker.  I continue this routine several more times as long as the child is tolerating the game. I like to aim for 10, but if the child is getting fussy we move on and come back to it later. 

This little technique is pretty quick, so instead of trying to do it ten times all at once, you could do it 2-3 times in a row and repeat it throughout the day instead. The idea here is for the child to enjoy the game as well as face to face time. I try not to focus so much on pushing the child to imitate, if he or she is having fun, the imitation start happening naturally. 

3. I’m going to share one more tip with you to help your child imitate. This is one of my all-time favorite games and it’s great for getting a child’s attention! The game that I LOVE to play is the “Achoo” game. The one where you place an object on your head and then pretend to sneeze so hard that it falls off… remember that one? It’s perfect for working on grabbing your child’s attention and making them laugh. We like to get really silly with this in therapy. You can place just about any soft toy on your head and very dramatically say, “ah, ah, ah, CHOO!” while you let the toy fall forward off of your head. If your child is really interested in watching you, after a few times you can place the toy on his or her head and say “ah, ah, ah…” Wait to see if your child attempts to make the toy fall off. If he or she doesn’t, you can always help by knocking the toy off for them on the “CHOO”. This game is usually filled with lots of laughter. You can add another element to this game by playing with stuffed animals. When the animal falls down, they get a big “uh-oh!” and a kiss from you. Then, you can hold the animal out to your child and say, “give it a kiss!” You can then lightly touch the animal to your child’s face to help them give the kiss.

With all of these techniques, the expectation is that your child will start to imitate you without you having to help them. It’s important to focus on only 1 or 2 of the tips and practice them frequently throughout each day. At first, some children only participate for under one minute. That’s okay! It’s best to only work on these skills while your child is enjoying it. It shouldn’t feel like a huge task that you have to sit down and force your child to work on when they’re not interested. Keeping it short and fun is key!