Worthy of Imitation

We all know that young children learn through imitation. Sometimes this is funny, like when a little two-year-old in my care walked up to a big four-year-old boy and said, “Hi Cutie!” Other times it makes us cringe a little bit, seeing our actions or hearing our words come out in miniature.

Although we know that children learn from imitation, the logical conclusion to that absolutely never occurred to me until I did my LifeWays training: that because children learn through imitation, in order to serve them best we must strive to be worthy of imitation.

What does this mean, in practical terms? Well, certainly we need to watch what we say. This one is fairly obvious: when we hear swear words coming from our toddlers’ lips, we realize that we need to restrain ourselves from swearing in front of them. But something that is just as important but perhaps not as obvious is our tone of voice. Do we speak in a warm, welcoming tone of voice, or do we let ourselves get snappy when we feel tired or rushed or annoyed? We can certainly speak firmly while still letting our love shine through, but when we snap angrily at children or at our spouse, it sends a different message. I will never forget a little boy in my care whose father had started working from a home in an office with glass doors. For two weeks, this little boy did nothing but dig angrily in the sandbox. If anyone tried to approach him he would yell at them, “Go away! Can’t you see I’m working?” Parents often have no idea how much of what happens at home comes out in children’s play. Children have no filters at this age; everything they experience soaks in.

Another thing to think about are our daily actions. Children thrive when they see caregivers doing “good work.” By good work I mean practical activities that children can imitate in their play, and eventually can help with or do themselves. Any sort of hobby where you make things (either useful or beautiful) are great for this: sewing, woodworking, mosaic art. And a great source for “good work” is household chores: cooking, cleaning, folding laundry, picking up toys. Set up an environment that allows your child to imitate you: have a miniature broom next to the full-sized broom. When you wipe the table, bring two cloths, and sing a little song while you do it. If your child asks to join in, you’ll already have a cloth ready. Instead of thinking of these things as chores that should be gotten through as quickly as possible, remember that you are a model for imitation in each case. Instead of slapping the plates together to unload the dishwasher, or setting the table as quickly as possible, imagine you were being filmed for each activity. Think about how you move, how you gesture, the attitude you display when you are doing this activity. Your child is soaking it all in. I love the image from the Disney movie Snow White, where the birds and woodland creatures come in to help her do her housework, and she sings joyfully through the whole thing. Who wouldn’t want to live in a house with a person who moved joyfully through every part of her day? How can we start to become that person?

And thirdly, what are you doing to take care of yourself so that you have the generosity of spirit you need? Children also benefit when they see that their caregivers have a rich life that doesn’t always include them.

As I move through my day at Rainbow Bridge, I’m very conscious of the fact that everything I say or do will be soaked in and imitated by the children I care for. Some days I do better than others; when I haven’t gotten enough sleep or a little boy poops in his pants for the fourth day in a row, I sometimes am not somebody who I’d like to see anyone imitating. But each day is a new opportunity, and the more I practice, the better I get.

Miss Faith


  1. Sara Savel says

    Hi Miss Faith,

    I'm new to the Waldorf philosophy (though Christian so not quite into the reincarnation idea) but loving everything other aspect I can get my hands on and study!

    Your post today is really speaking to me. My husband and I have been struggling with some issues…and let's just say we have not been the best at monitoring our tone in front of our twenty one month old.

    It is so true what you say about children soaking everything up and acting it out. Yesterday my son imitated me perfectly and told his father to, "go away!"

    I am not sure how to remedy this situation, beyond trying to set a new tone, a more peaceful and harmonious tone.

  2. Miss Faith says

    Thanks for sharing that, Sara. It takes real introspection to both realize what we could be doing better, and admit it "out loud." Don't worry, every day is a new day, and a new opportunity. Even if you're only monitoring your tone for your son, you may find that the benefits spill over. Good luck!

  3. Hi Miss Faith – So good to "see" your face again. I can't believe that we (myself, Bob, and Sam) moved to Minnesota almost 3 years ago. We now have Gracie (2) in our family as well. Things are going pretty well.Thank you very much for the timely article and congratulations on your engagement! Best regards, Anna King

  4. Miss Faith says

    Hi Anna,

    How great to hear from you! I was just talking about your little guy yesterday, believe it or not (we were discussing fruit allergies, of all things). How funny. I'm so glad to hear you're all doing well, and that you found my blog!


  5. Miss Faith, thank you so much for this post. I am a long time reader, though have been away for a while as my son got past the toddler years. I have two children, 4 and 1, and I have such trouble doing housework (or anything) in front of them. I find myself paralyzed when they are awake (my son doesn’t nap anymore but has a quiet rest.). As a result, I usually save all housework for when they are sleeping or in quiet rest. And often, I’m ready for a rest at that point too. So housework slips and our home gets cluttered. I can’t say why I become paralyzed like this, except that I may feel that turning away from them to do housework breaks the connection somehow. I feel guilty! And also, that both (especially the 1 year old at the moment) get whiny and unsettled when I am not sitting by them (either interacting or just observing). However, I love the idea that I am setting an example for them by working in front of them. And I want to be worthy of their imitation. Your post set in stone that I ought to be working in front of them, that it would benefit them in the long run. But I wonder, how do I do this despite their whining or ‘unsettled-ness’?

    • Tori, the “trick” is to do your tasks with such a sense of spaciousness that you have enough attention for your task AND for your kids. If they need direct attention from you, you can invite them to come join you in doing your task. As they settle into their play, you can become more and more “invisible,” fading into your task. If the whining starts up again, make your task fun and interesting: sing a little song, be a little silly, do it in such a way that you’re inviting them to come and be involved. Once you’ve gotten the hang of this a bit, you’ll discover that you can think ahead and prepare for how they can be involved if they want to (an extra cloth to wipe the counters, a dustpan for each, etc.) that you hold in reserve. When kids know that they CAN have your attention and be involved in what you’re doing, then they’re much better able to sink into their own play, so you might not need those extra tools after all. But usually kids come in and out, checking in and connecting with you, then going back to their own explorations.

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