Toddler copying actions

Baby has learned pretty much everything she knows from you! All of her clapping, eating, pointing, and talking (even if it’s just a few words) has come from watching you and learning how to imitate you. She might not know why you’re doing something, but she will give it the good old toddler try.

What do toddlers learn from copying?

Oh, just everything. Your little one is probably copying you in more ways than you know, and she will continue to mirror your actions until she knows enough to form her own way of doing things.

Toddlers learn a lot of basic motor functions by copying what people around them do, like eating with a spoon or playing with toys. Baby also learns how to react to things from you, which is why she might cheer when you cheer watching a football game or laugh when you laugh. And, of course, she learns language from you! If you repeatedly say a word or perform an action, there’s a good chance you can get Baby‘s version of it. 

How do they learn?

A study done by researchers from the University of Washington and Temple University found that toddlers’ brains showed specific activation patterns when adults performed tasks related to different parts of their bodies. If an adult touched a toy using her foot, the child’s brain activity would increase in the area that controls foot motion. If she used her hand, the hand part of the brain would see increased activity. So toddlers don’t just see how things are done, their brains are also making instant connections about how they could repeat those actions. When Baby sees you, she sees themselves.

Baby isn’t just learning how to do things, she is also learning why to do things. If she does something that makes you laugh, she might do it again to see if you laugh again. And again, and again, and again. The more you encourage a behavior, the more likely it is that you’ll continue to see it.

Where do they learn actions from?

Toddlers are adorable little sponges, so they can pick up information quickly from anything around them. This means that Baby‘s main influences are going to be the people she interacts with most. That means family, friends, babysitters, daycare workers, and anyone she sees frequently.

Similarly, if she spends a significant time watching television or playing with smartphones or tablets, she will be learning from them, for better or for worse. Because of this, it’s important to monitor what your little one is watching to make sure it’s something you’d be okay with her imitating. It might be a good idea to limit the time Baby spends watching television. It’s good for her to spend time playing outside and continuing to develop motor skills, and it’s good for you to not hear her singing the theme song of her favorite show for weeks at a time. They learn fast!

  • Shrier, Carrie. “Young children learn by copying you.” Michigan State University Extension. Michigan State University. June 27, 2014. Web.
  • McElroy, Michelle. “A first step in learning by imitation, baby brains respond to another’s actions.” UW Today. University of Washington. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. October 30, 2013. Web.
  • Meltzoff, Andrew. “Born To Learn: What Infants Learn From Watching Us.”  The Role of Early Experience in Infant Development. Pediatric Institute Publications, 1999. Web.

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