It is indeed true that the child’s actions imitate what goes on in the child’s surroundings. I have indicated in my public lecture how the child, completely at one with his sense-organism, inwardly experiences every gesture, every movement made by the people around him. But he experiences every gesture, every movement, in its moral significance. Hence a child who is confronted with a choleric father experiences the immoral element connected with a choleric temperament. And the child experiences, through the subtlest movements of the people around him, the thoughts that these people harbor. Hence we should never permit ourselves to have impure, immoral thoughts in a child’s presence and say: Such thoughts are permissible, because the child knows nothing about them. This is not true. Whenever we think, our nerve-fibers are always vibrating in one way or another. And this vibration is perceived by the child, especially during his earliest years. The child is a subtle observer and imitator of his surroundings.
The strangest and — it might be said — the most interesting fact, in an exalted sense, is the following: The child does not imitate everything, but takes his choice. And this choosing is done in a very complicated manner.
Let us assume that the child has before him a hot-headed, choleric father who does many things that are not right. The child, wholly one with his sense-organism, must absorb all these things. Since his eye cannot protect itself, it must perceive what takes place in the child’s surroundings.
What the child absorbs, however, is absorbed only in the waking state. Eventually the child goes to sleep. Children sleep a great deal. And during sleep the child is able to choose: What he wants to absorb is sent out of his soul into his body, his physical organism; what he does not want to absorb is ejected during sleep into the etheric world. Thus the child takes into his bodily organism only those things that have been predestined for him by his destiny, his Karma. The working of destiny is seen with especial vividness in the child’s very first years.
Source: Rudolf Steiner – GA 226 – Man’s Being, His Destiny and World-Evolution – Lecture IV – Kristiana (Oslo) 19th May 1923