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What is imitation?

Imitation is copying other people. It can include copying their:

  • Actions, using objects, for example, shaking a maraca, rolling a ball
  • Gestures and body movements, for example, clapping, waving
  • Sounds and words

Children use imitation right from being a tiny baby, throughout early childhood, to have social interactions, share emotions, take turns and learn new things. Children first imitate actions with objects, then go on to imitate gestures, sounds and words. Good imitation skills support joint engagement, language development, play skills, and social play. We work on imitation during natural social interactions, using their interests to motivate them to imitate us. Learning to imitate with toys or objects is the first step, supporting play and social communication.

How to develop imitation skills?

Illustration of adult playing with child

Imitate your child’s actions

For example, if they are rolling cars up and down on the table, you could get a car and do the same. Join in with something your child is doing, and keep imitating them until they seem to notice.

Illustration of adult playing building blocks with child

Add something

Add in a small idea of your own that is related to the play, for example after rolling a car for a while, you could knock it off the table.

Illustration of adult getting child to ask for more

Support your child to imitate an action

Pause and wait 10 seconds to see if your child might copy you. If they don’t, cue them by giving them the object, and maybe guide them with your hand over their hand.

Illustration of adult commenting on their cooking

Encourage your child to keep it going

Be enthusiastic and animated. Comment using simple words and phrases as you play. Repeat these lots of times, for example, every time you knock the car off the table, say “off”.

Contact us

For more information please contact the Speech and Language Therapy Service at Flockton House on 0114 226 2333.

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

Resource number: SL207

Resource Type: Article

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