Dear Mama Drama:
I have a question about my granddaughter who just turned five. She literally copies every thing that every one of her friends or cousins does (Monkey See, Monkey Do). She even copies things that other kids do even when she knows it is wrong! We wonder that if one of her friends jumped off a bridge if she would do it too. We all keep asking her why she does this and reminding her that she is a unique person with a terrific personality all by herself and doesn’t need to copy any one else. We are very concerned and are wondering if you have any tips and advice that you can offer.
Imitation is the primary form of learning young children use to acquire new skills and understandings. They imitate adults, peers, and characters from television, books, movies, and video games. While this is a critical part of development, it can be concerning and frustrating when they choose models for their behavior that do not fit with our view of them or with how we want them to behave.
Five-year-olds have an increasing awareness of their peer relationships and how peers perceive them. They want to be liked and accepted by others. Children of this age are also beginning to develop understandings of the give and take relationship of leaders and followers.
Your granddaughter may be experimenting with where she fits into the social structure of her friendships with her peers and cousins. She may see herself as more of a follower or she may just be trying out that role. Her imitation may also be the way she is showing how much she admires or looks up to her peers and cousins. (I had a cousin who I adored as a little girl and tried to imitate her posture, speech, and behavior whenever I was around her!) Teach your granddaughter to think about the consequences (positive and negative) of her choices and model this as well. Being able to weigh pros and cons is an important piece of becoming a critical and independent thinker.
Your granddaughter may also have observed that these other children get attention or reinforcement from their behaviors or noticed that when she engages in them she receives a lot of attention. We reinforce behavior with attention, even if it’s negative attention. Focus on giving attention to the behaviors you want to reinforce and ignoring the behaviors that you don’t want to reinforce. It is not necessarily easy, but definitely effective.
While you see your granddaughter as amazing just as she is, she may not be so sure. As children begin comparing themselves with others, they do not always recognize their own strengths and skills as valuable. As parents and grandparents, we can foster our children’s self-esteem with specific positive recognition of the traits and behaviors we value. Recognize those innate qualities that make her special to you, i.e., her polite manners, her willingness to be helpful, her sense of humor, the empathy she shows for other in need, her determination, her problem solving skills, etc.
Remember that this experimentation is part of who she is and how she is learning. Help her find positive role models, recognize the behaviors you want to reinforce, and help her to see herself as you see her.
Share your ideas for supporting positive social development, self-confidence, and independent thinking.
Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to [email protected], and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.