My youngest daughter is about 16 months old now. When she turned one, her big sister gave her a beautiful baby doll to play with. Nothing warms my heart like seeing Molly care for her baby doll. She makes a little crying noise and sometimes even says ‘up’, she picks the dolly up, gives her a cuddle, gently pats her back, kisses her very tenderly, then cuddles her again. After she’s done all that, she either gives her baby a bottle, puts her to her chest like she’s breastfeeding, or tucks the baby into bed, gives her a pat and then rocks her to sleep. At the end of the sequence she gets this big smile on her face like she’s really proud of herself.
It’s just the sweetest thing you’ve ever seen, and I find it amazing that even at 16 months, she’s starting to care for someone else and thinking about their needs. (Even if that someone else is just a lump of plastic in the shape of a baby!)
She’s obviously learned that stuff from watching myself and other adults caring for their babies. And that’s not the only way she mimics the adults around her. One of the first things she ever did was pick things up, hold them to her ear and talk on them like they’re a phone. It could be anything – a shoe, a Tupperware container, a banana. My husband likes to imply that this somehow means that Mummy is always on the phone, which I assure you is not the case!
Yesterday my husband brought home a beautiful hand-me-down toy kitchen from someone at his work. Both my girls spent all afternoon playing with it. They were doing pretend cooking, filling up the fridge with pretend food, stacking plates, washing-up, heating up bottles of milk in the microwave and making tea. They were having so much fun! Why isn’t it ever that much fun when I’m washing up? But for kids, play is their work. Play is how they learn. These little role-playing games that my girls are acting out are their way of learning about the world. And scarily, the person they learn that from, is mostly me.
Sometimes my little mimics aren’t so flattering. Sometimes Birdy tries to cut a deal with me, or makes conditions on what she does. For example, I’ve just asked her to pick up her clothes and she says, “I’ll only clean up my clothes if you let me watch another episode of Mr Moon.” That kind of controlling behaviour is kind of ugly when it comes out of your kids’ mouths, but of course she’s learned that from us. We use those techniques as a way to get our children to do what we want, and then they can’t understand why they’re not allowed to do the same thing. It’s probably just as well that our children’s behaviour can sometimes hold up a mirror to us. I just hope that one day my children will mimic Mummy doing something a little more inspiring than washing up, cooking dinner and talking on the phone!