How to work on copying/imitation with your child
Imitation is a skill that toddlers use to learn everything, especially how to talk. If a toddler does not know how to imitate words, it is always linked to late talking. Imitating can be the most important thing that separates late talkers from toddlers who are already talking.
When teaching a child to imitate, we can’t start with teaching them to copy big words. No matter how much we ask them to! What we can do is follow the levels for imitation that all kids learn before they begin to talk.
Knowing these levels is important because it can help us identify where in the overall development of the skill that a late talker has gotten “stuck” and help them develop those earlier steps. Once they have mastered those earlier steps, we can continue to support them to reaching the overall goal of imitating words. Once they’re imitating easily and frequently, we’ve turned them into full-time imitators, which leads to a child who talks!
What are the steps?
- Imitating actions with objects: this is when the toddler imitates what you do with an object in play – this might be banging on a drum, knocking over a tower, or stacking a tower
- Imitating gross motor movements: this is where the toddler copies big body movements such as marching, dancing, stomping and animal movements
- Imitating with fine motor movements/gestures: this is where the toddler copies smaller movements such as waving, clapping, pointing, and blowing kisses
- Imitating vocalisations in play: this is where the toddler starts to copy sounds – these can be things like fake yawns, panting like a dog, snorting like a pig, or can be exclamatory words like “mmm, uh-oh, boo, woo”
- Imitating verbal routines: you can teach your toddler to imitate a verbal routine like “ready, set go” and even have them fill in the missing words. Social games like peek-a-boo/row your boat and songs like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star are great to work on this level
- Imitating words: starting with imitating functional words is motivating for children – words like “more, no, shoe, car, book, ball” are going to be interesting for a child to imitate