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Behavior Modeling

The old adage “monkey see monkey do” holds true in a child’s behavioral development. From infancy to adolescence, children learn how to interact with their environment by mimicking the behavior of others, either at home, school, on social media, or TV.

This process of observational learning is a cornerstone of socialization, as it allows children to learn how to communicate, express themselves, and form relationships. It’s mimicking in all senses of the word.

Social Learning Theory

According to Psychologist Albert Bandura, Social Learning Theory revolves around people learning through observation, imitation, and modeling, influenced by attention, motivation, attitudes, and emotions. It emphasizes the interplay between environmental and cognitive factors in learning, suggesting that individuals observe and imitate behaviors, with rewards increasing the likelihood of imitation and punishment decreasing it. 

Modeling behavior is one component or aspect within the larger framework of social learning theory. This is also an adult behavior…not just in early childhood.


Parents and guardians play an important role in this process, as they are typically the first people to serve as models in children’s lives. As younger children grow, they begin to observe other children’s behavior and other adults in their lives, enabling them to further refine their skills in communication and socialization, both positive and negative.

My son always comes home with something he picked up at school, either a dance move, a Taekwondo move, or some new words.

Ultimately, the “monkey see, monkey do” principle is essential to a child’s development, as it provides them with the necessary tools to become an effective and compassionate member of their community. My son mimics me eating spicy Korean ramen all the time as well as so many other things I do *good things*…of course. 

photo of two monkeys sitting on rock. Monkey see monkey do
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What are The origins of monkey see monkey do?

It is said that the phrase “Monkey See, Monkey Do” had its start in Jamaica during the early 1700s and became commonplace in the US in the 1920s. It’s considered an older term but is still used today.

Role of Parents

Children take on many of their lifestyle habits, both positive and negative, by copying their parents. The age-old saying “Monkey See, Monkey Do” is especially applicable here. The examples that parents set are highly influential to their children. 

Many parents encourage their children to practice healthy habits, but then fail to follow their own advice. Kids will tend to do what their parents do, not what they say. Those parents who lead an unhealthy lifestyle of overeating, drinking soda, eating fast food, and not exercising often see their children following in their footsteps. This can lead to an overweight or obese child.

The same goes with smoking parents, it’s well documented that teens are FAR more likely to start smoking if their parents are smokers. Sucks! Just don’t smoke…I still don’t understand this nasty habit. I’m lucky not to be in these statistics as both my mom and dad smoked and many of my family members did as well…but not MOI…Non, non.

Your Child’s Surroundings

Has your little one ever followed you around the house imitating everything you did? Or, did he ever drink his milk the way you drink your coffee, or hold mommy’s purse the same way you help her with her purse? Monkey see Monkey do!  How about some inappropriate behavior your child learned at school? Or a curse word you don’t use at home? 

I remember pretending to be Rambo, Commando and Chuck Norris when I was young. Don’t we all tend to mimic what we see outside or on TV on a regular basis? It’s human nature no? Maybe primate nature…

children s team building on green grassland. monkey see monkey do
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How Children Learn From Peers

Think about this one… did you come up with the word TIKTOK? From all the social media ‘shorts’ on different platforms showing things from eating Tide Pods to dancing beside a moving car, people respond to these very well. (Unfortunately for humanity)

Girls want to look a certain way because they saw something online, the same thing goes for boys. It’s nothing new, just more mainstream.

I’m sure you remember your mom telling you to be careful with who you hung around with. I’m also sure that’s what you’re telling your kids. Because as parents we know our kids will learn from their peers, good and bad. Gotta make sure it’s as good as possible for your child’s behavior.

It’s not all ‘doom and gloom.’ It’s a lot to do with simply fitting in. Your child will find their way, no worries. You’re doing a great job!

Tips for Parents and Childcare Providers

Control the screen time people! (Yours and theirs). Please, if you want your kids to have two-way conversations with you, play with you, not need eye-glasses at an early age, pay attention to you, eat with you at the dinner table, talk about their day, and not have a terrible posture and overall be more sociable, get off your phones at home. 

Unless it’s for educational purposes, the phone should be put on a shelf and kept there until the allowed time comes. Monkey see your phone, and Monkey plays on their phone. Simple! Daddy Monkey smokes, Baby Monkey smokes. You gotta take that lead with good model behavior in front of your child. 

Family time is precious and phones are ruining this precious time all over the world.  Play a board game, have a convo, or simply go take a walk together. They will mimic your moves, so make the first one. 

++Daddy Tip!

First Step…’ Walk the walk and talk the talk’ —They’ll follow. It’s important to start positive behaviors at a young age, as it’ll be ingrained in them by the time they grow up. It could be eating healthy food, exercising, learning a new skill, or using respectful language with others, target behaviors are often learned at home. So, you must be a positive role model because you can’t control their every move outside the home. It all starts at home…

monkey see monkey do, dad blog
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Set a Good Example

The importance of this topic is undeniable. This process serves as the foundation for social and emotional development, as well as cognitive development. Children learn to interact with others and establish healthy relationships by observing others in their environment. Parents’ behaviors are especially influential in their children’s social and emotional development.

Some say “Kids are like sponges, they absorb everything.” So true! Make sure they’re absorbing the right stuff in the best way possible. I’m sure you’ve been at your child’s school looking at the other students wondering ‘What the hell happened to those little brats?’… Monkey saw and Monkey is still doing.  It all starts at home…

Keep it simple… Teach well, happily, simply and gently.

So what can you do today? Take away their phone or limit the amount of screen time. Try not to be in front of a screen, TV, phone, or PC. You can also do what you do best; be kind, patient, loving, and keep a calm tone. And those are the best ways to go, whether at home or in the workplace.

++So the next time they are demonstrating a specific behavior or using general language you don’t care for, make a conscious effort and try to solve the issue at hand. On a closer look, they might be learning this from a new group of children or even from your own behavior. 

Remember, they are only young once!

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