How Children Mirror Us

How Children Mirror Us – Guest post by Sonja Martin (translated)

Children as Mirrors

Children reflect us. They repeat exactly what we say. We hear ourselves speaking. They mimic our body posture. They want to do exactly what we are doing. Especially in the early years of life, primary caregivers are the most important reference points for children in terms of language development and body posture.

Mirroring as a Bonding Strategy

Children mirror us to establish a bond with us. Bonding is crucial for children because they are not survivable on their own. Even today, they wouldn’t go to the supermarket alone to provide for themselves. They need reliable adults to care for them. “Mirroring” behaviors, reactions, and postures is particularly important for children as a bonding strategy. Adults also mirror each other to build connections, but for children, it is a key survival strategy.

In the first year of life, bonding is mainly established through physical contact. Older children become increasingly adept at imitating us, mirroring our actions in more detail.

Children React to Adult Behavior

Our behavior is crucial in determining how children behave. Of course, there are individual temperaments and personality structures. Nevertheless, our behavior is decisive because children react to it.

In communication, it is we, the adults, who are responsible for how the communication unfolds. This includes non-verbal communication. My body tension, posture, gestures, and facial expressions—all of this is unconsciously absorbed by even young children and incorporated into their behavioral patterns.


Pain Perception Depends on Parental Reaction

For example, on the playground, small children after gently falling on their knee mainly try look directly into their parents face to check how the caregivers react. If they look calm and smile, everything seems fine, and the child continues to play. However, if the adult worriedly asks, “Did you hurt yourself?” then something seems wrong, and the child is likely to start crying.

We are the safe haven for young children. Our behavior significantly influences how children assess their own pain. Pain is a highly individual experience, and we can help children cope with it effectively. We should not be overly anxious but should take children seriously: if a child is really hurt, they will start crying immediately.


Children Learn How to Deal with Emotions from Us

Children see us as role models. They learn from us how to handle their emotions. If your child behaves noticeably in a certain area, you might first ask yourself if you behave similarly in similar situations, or conversely, if you suppress that emotion.

For instance, I rarely show my daughter when I am angry. I am currently practicing expressing my anger to her without being loud or unfair. However, I want to make it clear that her behavior at that moment makes me angry. If I don’t do this, my anger still lingers, and it might grow stronger because I am trying to hold it back for too long.

My daughter also does not show her anger. She usually pouts rather than admitting that she is angry. It could be that she is mimicking my behavior: my desire for harmony instead of discussing a conflict.

As Parents, We Can Initiate Change

The good news is that we can change our behavior at any time and become better role models for our children. We all have behaviors that we consider positive or negative. Children absorb everything from us, regardless of what we think about it. They particularly notice what we do. We can say a hundred times that smoking is bad for health and that they should never start, but if we smoke ourselves, this example outweighs our words.

For example, I have been almost entirely sugar-free for a few months. I believe I am setting an example for my daughter. She sees that we don’t need sugar to feel good.

Children Imitate the Body Posture of Adults

Body posture can be tricky. I have often observed a very straight posture in my daughter when she returns from some days with her father. He is very athletic and a role model for a straight posture. After a few hours with me, she slouches her shoulders. Her shoulder blades protrude at the back.

Then I see myself in my daughter. I really have a posture that could be improved.

There is a photo of me as a child, perhaps at the age of 3, sitting in the bathtub. I am slouching my back, just like my mother. Presumably, I also mimicked her posture. Very young children who have just learned to sit have very straight postures until they start to orient themselves to their parents and learn to sit, walk, and stand like them.

Speaking of walking, a friend of mine walks just like his father. He clasps his hands behind his back and walks like an old man. In my generation, people don’t walk like that. Actually. But: “Like father, like son.” This is very evident in terms of walking style.

There are idiomotor behaviors that are often adopted. These are small movements we make and often barely notice, such as touching the nose, wringing hands, or brushing hair behind the ear. These idiomotor behaviors are also often inherited from our parents. All for a good bond!

Children Adopt Sayings and Attitudes

Sometimes, even today, I hear my father speaking through me. When I write it down like this, it sounds a bit eerie. I use expressions that I don’t even like and that don’t suit me at all, like: “We need to train this,” or “It looks like a bomb went off here.”

By becoming aware of these connections, we understand ourselves and our children better. We can be better role models for them if we want to.

I’m heading to the yoga mat now! For a straight back.

Guest post by Sonja Martin