Mirror, Mirror…

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Your children may not be listening to you but research suggests they may be mirroring you. It has been said children are like sponges, taking in everything around them, but they are also like mirrors. They are very special mirrors, reflecting what they see in front of them, and if you look closely, into this very personal mirror, you may find a customized parenting image of you.something called ‘Mirror Neurons’ may be at work and could help explain how we learn through mimicry, some of our behaviours, and why we empathize with others.

Neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, MD, with his colleagues at the University of Parma, Italy, first identified mirror neurons, and suggests that the neurons could help explain how and why we “read” other people’s minds and feel empathy for them. If watching an action and performing that action can activate the same parts of the brain in monkeys–down to a single neuron–then it makes sense that watching an action and performing an action could also elicit the same feelings in people. The concept might be simple, but some Neuroscientists believe the implications are far-reaching, suggesting that the neurons are important for understanding intentions as well as actions.

Children learn how to behave by seeing how their mothers and fathers behave and following their example. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the “lessons” we may unintentionally be teaching our children. Such unintentional influences are just as powerful as those we carefully plan. Mirror neurons make no judgments regarding good or bad behaviors ; simply, they mimic what is being observed.

When your children observe your behaviors, their mirror neurons fire as if they are actually doing what they are watching.  Research on mirror neurons has discovered that when we watch someone doing something, the same neurons that fire in their brain also fire in our brain. By watching others, we end up thinking and feeling the same thing as they feel by doing.

Daniel Siegel, a child psychiatrist and brain research theorist, has written a book for parents explaining how our brains affect the development of our children’s brains – Parenting From the Inside Out, (2013). Siegel calls the use of mirror neurons mindsight. It’s how one mind sees another mind. He says that adults who have mindsight, who can express their awareness of their own internal events as well as what’s going on inside other people, appear to be the parents who raise children who thrive.

From the time a baby is merely weeks old that baby learns to reference and interpret their caregiver’s face and body language for information; emotion and experience-sharing are the glues that establish and build relationships. The best way to learn new behaviors is to watch people who are exhibiting desirable behaviors.  For children, most of what they mirror is what they see in the people closest to them – their parents.

Children Learn What They Live

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Copyright © 1972 by Dorothy Law Nolte


Ristau, J. (2006). What makes a good parent: Brain development and the ability to related. Cited from   http://jacqueristau.com/articles/article4.html

Siegel, Dan & Hartzell, Mary.  (2013). Parenting from the inside out.  New York : J.P. Tarcher/Putnam .

Winerman, L. 2005. The mind’s mirror.  American Psychological Association, Vol 36, No. 9, pg 48.