Copy CatsCopying or ‘modelling’ as it’s known, is often said to be at the heart of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) – it’s how the creators of NLP began their studies. They studied behaviour and language patterns of experts in the field of psychological therapy and discovered that if they closely replicated their way of working, they too could achieve excellent results with patients. They called this ‘modelling’ and it quickly became apparent that this could be applied to almost any kind of skill or technique.

It’s not unusual to hear top sports people and other high achievers claim that they were influenced by a childhood hero and tried to be just like them. They say that ‘imitation is the sincerest form of flattery’ and the NLP modelling process works in a similar way.

Modelling is in fact a natural way of learning and this ‘copying’ skill is something with which we are born. Humans can be seen as ‘slow’ in developmental terms – compare the eighteen months it takes us on average to learn how to walk with animals such as horses whose young spring up and walk within hours of being born. This ‘delay’ in our development is what enables us to be the superior of the species. We can adapt to our environment more readily – pick up a giraffe and place him in the North Pole and he will die. Whereas human beings have the ability to change and mould themselves to their surroundings – and one of the ways we do this is by copying!

So your child is automatically programmed to ‘copy’ in order to acquire new skills – although this natural acquisition of knowledge can be a bit haphazard to say the least.  But there’s much you can do to encourage your child to move in the right direction.

The more your kids spend time in the company of children who behave in a certain way, the more they will become like them.  Most parents have a pretty good idea of who they don’t want their children to associate with, but how about the children who could teach your child something valuable?  The more you can study and watch people who have the kind of skills you’d like to have, the more likely you are to acquire them.  And this skill doesn’t have to be reserved for violin playing, javelin throwing or the butterfly stroke.

Look out for those children who have the kind of simple behaviours that your child could benefit from eg:

–   sitting quietly when wasps fly by

–   happy to let a spider crawl around the room

–   confident at reading out loud in class assembly

–   sure of themselves on school trips (avoid the loud, boorish, overly-confident seemingly ones – this is masking anxiety)

To successfully model someone follow these steps:

1.      Identify the behaviour or skill that you’d like to adopt.

2.      Identify a child who already does this well.

3.      Watch, study and notice – what is it that this child is doing that makes him or her successful?

4.      Could you ask the child or perhaps the parent, for more tips and advice?

You could test this out for yourself and once you feel comfortable with the technique, introduce the idea to your child.

Modelling Excellence: When you first begin to consciously ‘model’ someone’s behaviour, pick something straightforward and simple. You could copy someone’s eating habits, for example.

1.      If you were to eat as they do, how would you have to hold your knife and fork?

2.      How much food would have to pick up and put in each mouthful?

3.      Do they take one item at a time?

4.      Or do they enjoy merging their meat, potatoes and vegetables?

5.      Do they chew their food thoroughly or do they shovel it down?

6.      Do they leave something on their plate or do they clean it?

7.      And how do they place their knife and fork on the plate when they have finished eating?


•        How would a fussy eater who clearly wasn’t enjoying his meal eat?

•        And how would a hearty eater sitting down to his favourite meal eat?

If you were to model each of these eating habits, do you think it would change your experience of the meal? Would you enjoy one more than the other? You wouldn’t just be copying the behaviour, you’d be able to change the experience.

Once you understand the behaviours and thinking patterns of other people you can begin to help your children develop this natural skill.  If there is anything your child is struggling to achieve, point out other children who have achieved excellence in their field and already know how to do this.

You can encourage your child start noticing what it is that this child does in order to be successful and day by day, to start acting a little more like them, quite simply being what kids like being – copycats!

Remember to point out to your child that although there are children who seem to be easily and naturally successful, there was a time too, when they were still learning and struggling.  Only with persistence, did they manage to achieve what they wanted.

Alicia Eaton is a Children’s Behavioural and Emotional Wellbeing Specialist based in London’s Harley Street.  She’s the author of best-selling books: Words that Work – How to Get Kids to Do Almost Anything; Fix Your Life with NLP; Stop Bedwetting in 7 Days.