Practically from the moment it is born, the baby begins to study the movements of its parents, their emotions, their gestures, their words… And little by little it will begin to imitate them.
Thus, we can see how the baby smiles if we smile at him, how he makes that gesture so characteristic of mom and dad his own, or even how he recognizes the emotions of others and reacts to them. With the passage of time, the child will learn to speak, to move, to relate and to behave in society imitating what she sees in her parents Of her.
This learning mechanism is given by the so-called “mirror neurons”, discovered more than 25 years ago by the scientist Giacomo Rizzolatti. We explain how they influence the child’s learning and the development of their empathy from birth. Check out more at our Prince Blog.
Mirror neurons, the basis of empathy and learning
Mirror neurons were discovered in 1996 by the Italian neurobiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti while studying the brain of the macaque monkey with a team of researchers from the University of Parma (Italy).
Rizzolatti observed that in the monkey’s brain a group of neurons was activated, not only when the animal executed specific movements or actions, but also when it watched others do it.
Further investigation found evidence of a similar system in the human brain, where ‘observation’ and ‘action’ also converge.
In this way, the functioning of mirror neurons not only allows us to carry out certain actions after a process of observation and imitation, but also to put ourselves in the place of the other and make the emotions of others our own ( empathy ).
This would explain certain phenomena such as “contagious laughter”, why we cry and get sad when we see others suffer, or even why we yawn when others around us do. But above all, thanks to mirror neurons we understand why our actions and our example are more important than our words in children’s learning.
Thus the child learns by imitation
The smile is one of the first gestures that the baby imitates from adults. This appears from the first month of life , and it is a social smile that the baby outlines in response to a stimulus from the father or mother. In addition, from this age they are already able to recognize some faces and even imitate certain gestures . Logically they won’t always do it, but we will be surprised to see our baby staring at us and trying to imitate our faces.
The mirror neurons of the baby will also allow him to imitate the movements of others , including the movements of the lips and the tongue, a fact that is already observed from the third month of life and that is essential for the development of speech and learning . of new words.
From the age of two, the child will begin to incorporate imitation in their games. This stage is extremely important for their development , as it allows them to continue learning and discovering the world around them by imitating the behaviors, scenarios or attitudes they see from adults.
But the imitation phase does not end here, because throughout his childhood the child will continue to imitate the behavior of the adult , which in turn allows him to learn social norms to live in a community, interaction routines or practically any aspect (for example, hygiene routines, participation in domestic tasks, reading habits, ecological awareness, interest in physical exercise…) that will allow you to gain autonomy, while acquiring new essential skills for your life.
In short, imitation is the most important form of learning in childhood, and parents are its main reference models.
For this reason, we must be aware that our children continually observe our actions, learning from them more than through our words. For this reason, it is essential to be consistent with what we ask of them and what we then do, because otherwise we will not only lose credibility, but the basis of their learning will be failing.