Modeling Behavior for Infants and Toddlers

As the main adults present in your child’s life, you have a great responsibility.  Your child wants to be just like you!  If she sees Mommy throwing books and standing on the table, that is what she’s going to try to do.  It is important for adults to model proper behavior for children.

Your child sees more than you realize.  A few months ago, I was surprised when I watched L take my phone charger, carry it to an outlet in the wall (covered with child safety covers, of course), and try to plug it in.  I don’t recall ever doing that in front of her, although I must have.  More recently, I watched her take her baby doll and put it in a friend’s baby’s car seat and then gently rock it.  I may have done that once or twice, back when I was teaching, but we didn’t have that kind of car seat for L, so she cannot have observed it very many times.  All it takes is once — your child is always watching.  That’s how she learns!

You know that saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words?”  The same applies for your actions.  Modeling the correct behavior for cleaning up — carrying objects with two hands so as not to drop them, placing them gently in the correct place — is worth way more than trying to verbally tell your toddler to clean up with no visual example.  Unfortunately, it works both ways:  if your toddler sees you throwing her toys into a bin at the end of the day, she thinks that’s an appropriate way to clean up.

As adults, we are used to doing certain things because we know we cannot get hurt doing them.  For example, we frequently sit on furniture that is not meant to be sat on, or eat while walking around, or toss things where they belong to finish the task quickly.  A young child’s motor skills are not developed enough for her to do those same things.  If she sits on a low table, she might fall off.  If she eats while walking around, she might choke.  If she tosses things instead of putting them gently away, things will be broken.  If you want to set your child up for success, you need to model a way of doing things that is appropriate for a toddler to copy.  It does not come naturally for adults, but it is necessary in order to keep your child safe while allowing her to be independent.