5 Tips to Help Your Child Imitate Actions

Why is imitating actions important to speech and language development?

If your child is receiving early intervention or speech therapy services, they may be delayed in using gestures, words, or sentences to communicate. You may notice that your speech-language pathologist is addressing skills such as copying actions and gestures before words during therapy. It may look like a lot of play. Why? This is because children generally first learn to copy what they see first, and children learn through play!

5 Tips to Help Your Child Imitate Actions

Reduce distractions

We all do best when distractions in our environment are limited. Before you get started, assess your space and see what can be changed quickly to help your child focus. This might look like putting toys away, and powering down any TVs or tablets.

Get on their level

Make it as easy as possible for your child to see you. Sit on their eye level on the floor, laying down, or in a chair while they are in their high chair. Pro-tip: you can also try including mirrors!

Start BIG

Before we expect a child to copy an American Sign Language (ASL) sign or a gesture like pointing, they might first imitate bigger body movements. This could look like dancing, running, lifting their hands up, or clapping. With toys, this might include throwing, dropping, or banging toys together at first.

Include their interests

Let's face it, we pay attention to what we care about the most. If your child is LOVING cars this week, include the cars - it's easier to join in on what your child already shows interest in as they will naturally be paying attention to you. If your child loves music, musical instruments are a super fun way to help your child both see and hear you copying them - which brings us to our last tip!

Copy them first and WAIT!

Does it feel like your child is just not paying attention to you? Give this tip a try. Copy THEM first. No matter how silly, as long as the play action is safe. Think about how it feels when someone copies us. That gets our attention right away! You may copy how they play, then look at them and WAIT. Give them a chance to notice you are copying them. Soon enough, you may be taking turns copying each other.

Happy imitating!

Sarah Larsen, M.S., CCC-SLP