My almost-five-year-old daughter Anna and I are currently on vacation. We’ve been staying with my friend and her eight-year-old son. The other day, I noticed that Anna and her friend had been quiet downstairs for a long time and I started to worry. When I went to check on them, Anna was huddled at the bottom of the stairs. “We were watching Star Wars and it was so scary,” she informed me.
I wasn’t surprised. This is a kid who won’t watch action sequences in Disney movies and gets upset over “sad parts” (read: any scene with conflict or tension) in storybooks. “Did you use your words to say you were scared?” I asked her. Of course, the answer was no. I don’t think she kept quiet for fear of judgment, however. I think she genuinely wanted to like what my friend’s son enjoyed.
This is not uncommon for her and, as an only child, Anna plays out these situations in social interactions with other kids all the time. She’s on the cusp between little kid and big kid, and some days it seems to overwhelm her. If there are toddlers at the park, she’s happy to play at their level; when older kids are there, she’ll join in on the more adventurous play. It’s hard to tell these days when something genuinely interests her, or when she’s just accommodating other kids. Does she want to take ballet lessons because she’s actually interested? Or is it simply because her friends Alexandra and Willow want to take ballet? If it’s the latter, should I still encourage this interest or should I steer her towards exploring her true passions?
Anna, in any case, is a very adaptable kid. She travels well. She socializes well. She’s generally easy to bring places (unless said places are extremely noisy, as she’s noise-sensitive). While I don’t identify with her adaptability at all (I was a picky, introverted child and became a stubborn adult), it’s something I truly admire about her. She can be thrown into most new situations and find herself having a good time. Still, it’s hard not to notice how much her interests and behaviours shift depending on the context and the people involved—the way she speaks, the way she listens, what she asserts.
I like that my daughter is exposed to different kinds of people—both children and adults. I see her wading through experiences, picking up quickly on certain social behaviours and deciding against others. I also notice her experimenting, which I think is important, even if it results in her imitating another child’s tantrum or way of speaking.
This morning, however, I noticed Anna and my friend’s son watching My Little Pony. Looks like she’s starting to figure out how to ask for what she wants.
Do your kids copy other kids? Have you seen positive, or negative, results from kids mimicking each others’ behaviours?
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.