If you have a child who has reached toddlerhood, it won’t be long before she puts your hat on her head, grabs your purse, prances around with a grin, and waits for your captivated laughter. Your toddler has recognized and is imitating a grown-up pattern of behavior, and she knows that she will receive pleasure from your smiling face. This imitating is one way your child begins to explore emotions of her own choosing. She realizes that she doesn’t always have to wait for you to provide the happy feelings—she is learning that she can prompt a gratifying response from you by acting in a specific way.
Your toddler will recognize and imitate patterns of behavior associated with all feelings, not just happy feelings. The way your child handles anger and distress may look familiar too. The important thing to remember is that your toddler can use learned patterns of behavior to express all feelings, and though he or she may initially simply mimic behavioral patterns, soon your child will start initiating the same patterns when he or she has to vent emotions.
As you show and teach your toddler how to link different patterns of behavior, he or she will be able to experience and create a method for organizing interactions around such emotions as pleasure and excitement, assertiveness, closeness, and anger. Your toddler will increasingly devise his or her own “handprint” on the behaviors, but the foundation will come from imitation of observed grown-up patterns.
More to consider: Action plans . . .
Another way you can notice your child’s budding ability to imitate and recreate a plan for action is his or her growing fascination with exploring how things fit together or relate to one another. Toddlers are gaining control over the fine muscles in their body, so they are able to manipulate and create patterns out of objects like blocks. After watching you create a tower of blocks, for example, your toddler will gradually learn how to sequence his or her own behaviors and actions so that one block rests on another.