The Imitative Child
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
UNLESS methods of rearing children change greatly during the next two decades, the Imitative Child bids fair to make a model mother, for she is bringing up her rag doll precisely as her mother rears the baby. No alteration of diet or innovation in care escapes her observant eye, and the change is immediately made with the doll.
All children are, of course, imitative to a certain degree, but the Imitative Child imitates unthinkingly. She is a copyist and not an originator. She does what you do in the same way, and never once deviates.
Watch the Imitative Child in the church school. You ask her to show in pantomime what she does to help her mother, and she stirs cake — not be-cause she ever did stir cake, but because the child who was asked before stirred cake. Watch her as she draws "something you like to eat." It is a cup of milk. As it happens, she dislikes milk, and every drop she drinks is forced down her throat. But the child next her drew a cup of milk; consequently she did.
This copying of another's acts without thought is the Imitative Child's danger. She does this not at all to give a false impression, but simply because it is easier for her to copy than to think. Neither does this necessarily brand her as dull, but rather as not original.
The Imitative Child's friends have two duties toward her — to encourage independent thinking, and imitating with discrimination.
Her teacher encourages thoughtful answers by asking the Imitative Child a question first, before there is an answer to repeat. She usually finds that, there being no opportunity for the parrot rôle, she gives an intelligent reply. In like manner, when there is any handwork to be done, she is placed so that she can see no other child's work.
Her mother encourages her to make choices — of the cereal she wants, the dress she shall wear, the story to be told. She is careful not to express too strong opinions, lest the little copyist become merely her echo. She frequently asks her why she likes or chooses something.
To encourage imitating with discrimination her mother institutes the Game of Make-believe. "Which," she says, "would you like to make believe be, a carpenter who pounds or a wood-chopper who chops?" After the Imitative Child has chosen, she personifies her choice before the father, and he guesses whom she represents.
Again the mother says, "Which will you be, mother with the baby, or auntie with Fido ?" and again the Imitative Child decides which impersonation is more pleasing. The game proceeds, and the child is learning to discriminate in imitation.
Her teacher does similar things. She lets her choose between two story characters to be represented, or whether she will play feed a cat or wheel a baby. When the stories of Jesus are told, the Imitative Child is helped to see that none is so worthy of imitation, so loving, so helpful, as the Lord Jesus.
For the Imitative Child's weakness is, after all, her strength. Rightly guided in discriminating choice, she will become a hero-worshiper, an imitator of noble people, a follower of the Great Example.