She Says… Copy Cat

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Owen’s teachers describe him as a “big personality”. He’s the kid who tells other kids’ parents more about their child’s day than their own child. He’s the kid who shoots his hand up (and shouts out his answer at the same time) the second a question is asked at circle time. And even when it isn’t. He’s the kid who can’t let you get through one page of a book without asking 10 million questions. Everyone he meets knows his name because he won’t let them forget it.

He’s assertive. Creative. Verbose. Outgoing. Hilarious. He loves to be the center of attention. He looks for opportunities to put on a show.

Which is why his recent behavior is… confusing. Peculiar. Sort of frustrating, as a parent. He is currently OBSESSED with copying what other people are doing.

Before choosing a coat to wear, he’ll ask me, “Which coat are YOU going to wear?” and then he’ll only wear his coat that matches mine. Yesterday he had a full-blown tantrum because I was wearing black pants and his black pants were dirty, so we couldn’t wear the same pants. When I ask him what he wants for snack he’ll ask me if I want the same thing that he will have. In an effort to model making my own choices, sometimes I’ll say, “Maybe. But I’m going to pick for myself. You pick for you, and I’ll pick for me.” Still, often he won’t even choose a snack until he’s certain that I’ll have the same thing. Or he’ll change his snack choice based on what I picked for myself.

At home, it’s pretty easy to manage. It’s sweet, actually (except when I REALLY want to wear flip flops for a quick trip to the store but he doesn’t have flip flops that fit and waaaaaah). You know what they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But at school it seems to take on a different flavor. He’s currently focusing all his attention on one particular friend, and will only do what she’s doing in the classroom. He will only wear long-sleeved shirts because SHE wears long-sleeved shirts. He wants to bring a backpack to school everyday instead of our normal bag because SHE brings a backpack to school everyday. It’s like he can’t function without someone to copy.

I get it. Every one of us, every day, is working through what we want and balancing that with what others want. We are learning how people react when we act a certain way, and the social impact of following versus leading. Of going your own way versus following the crowd. We are all doing this dance of copying things that we see other people doing (hello, Pinterest! Facebook!), but we’ve been around the block enough times to know that you kind of have to hide that you’re doing it or you’ll be a copycat. A poser. A wanna-be.

Apparently this lesson starts young.

I guess this irks me because I know that he is a headstrong, confident little boy most of the time. And it makes me a little sad to see him lose himself in someone else. To not even know what he wants because he just wants what SHE wants. I want to see Owen stand up for himself and his opinions. I want him to have opinions. I want him to continue to share those opinions, even if they are not what his friends would do or say. If genders were reversed in this situation, I’d be wondering if I taught my daughter enough about how women don’t need men to make decisions for them. About girl power and confidence and being proud of who you are no matter what anyone else thinks. (Don’t get me wrong — certainly the same messages still apply for boys as well!)

But the truth is that I know this is just one of those social things that everyone has to learn. Striking that delicate balance between where you end and your friends begin. Learning how to make decisions for yourself no matter what your friends are doing. Certainly a lesson he’ll learn over and over and over again throughout his life, though in some cases it will undoubtedly be much bigger and will require him to make harder decisions than wearing long-sleeved shirts and carrying backpacks.

If you had asked me 2 weeks ago if my kid was a leader or a follower, I would have said the former, without a shadow of a doubt in my mind. But now I’m not so sure. I guess the only thing that is certain is that we are all both, and it takes a lot of practice to figure that out for ourselves.

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6 responses to “She Says… Copy Cat

  1. auntbeesrecipes

    It sounds to me like he may have his first crush 🙂

  2. I wouldn’t over-think this too much at this age. My son (age 3.5) does it too and I was worried at first but then I started thinking about how it must seem from the perspective of the kid they’re imitating. It probably makes them feel good and makes them friendly toward our sons which makes our sons feel good and makes them want to do it more. It’s a way for them to get some experience doing something for someone else to make themselves feel good without having to really sacrifice anything. Sharing is still so hard at this age and we constantly tell our kids, “Don’t you want to give your friend a turn? It would make them happy! Don’t you want to make them happy?” Well, no, not really… they don’t want to sacrifice their own happiness to make someone else happy and they wont want to until they discover for themselves how good this really feels. Imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery and I think it plays out even at this young age and maybe teaches a valuable lesson even if it’s not a personality trait we necessarily hope for them when they’re older. I read a study recently about how parental nurture doesn’t play too much of a role in shaping our children’s personalities after all. Nature plays a big role but the nurture part comes more from their peers. That means that one of the best things we can do for our kids is to make sure their peers are quality people. Hopefully Owen is imitating a nice girl : ) My son was imitating a boy with some behavior issues for awhile and now I’m reluctant to hang out with that family.

  3. This reminded me of an episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood (on PBS/Netflix) where Daniel and his friends are putting on a talent show to show what makes them each special and one of the friends wants to copy what the other friends share…until the end he realizes he has his own special things to share, too. It’s Volume 1, Episode 20 if you’re interested. Might be a good starting point to show Owen that the things he does are special and unique. It’s a really cute cartoon if you’ve never seen it – takes after Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.

  4. Mirror neuron growth spurt …’nuff said.

  5. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro06/web3/bkeffala.html

    Mirror neuron development is a good sign. Be happy 🙂

  6. @Jennifer S., Thank you! I totally agree — it’s all part of becoming who he is and it’s completely developmentally appropriate for where he is at the moment. Doesn’t make it any easier to get dressed in the morning, but it’s certainly interesting to watch his little brain grow and his personality develop.

    @Marta, Thank you for that tip — we used to watch Daniel Tiger and I always loved the way the lessons seemed to sink in for Owen. I’ll have to look that one up.

    @Anon., Very interesting!

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