That is not to say that children only learn the negative traits from their parents. There are many external factors (as movies, peers, etc.) that have a say in the upbringing of a child or the formation of his/her personality. However, a huge chunk of what becomes of a child, is his/her imitation of their parents.
Another example would be punishing a child physically for misbehaving (for having been aggressive toward his friend, for example). By punishing the child, you might want to teach him/her a lesson that hitting others is wrong. However, isn’t the child learning from your parental demonstration (i.e., punishing him/her physically) that it is appropriate in similar social interactions to be physically aggressive when frustrated? In the 1960s, a very famous psychologist called Albert Bandura, conducted experiments that go by the name “Bobo Doll Experiment” and highlight exactly that. The results of this experiment showcase that exposure to aggressive models heightens the aggressive responses of children to subsequent frustration. Children who have been exposed to aggressive models displayed twice as much aggression than those who have not been exposed to aggression (Bandura, 1965). It confirms the theory that essentially children can learn about and acquire social behaviors (i.e. aggression) through imitation and observation.
Your imitative learning has already been stored in your child’s brain/unconscious and it will come up when needed. It is also clearly evident in the way your child replicates the whole parental role-behavior which encompasses aspects like mannerisms, voice, attitude, etc. That is when you realize as a parent that your child has learnt a certain trait from you. It would feel as if you are looking at yourself in the mirror.
So, is it the same for boys and girls? A very interesting study conducted by Hartup (1962) shows that both boys and girls tend to imitate the like-sex parent more than the opposite-sex parent. Thus, boys are more likely to imitate their fathers whilst girls are more likely to imitate their mothers. Those results could be different in various cultures; however, it still sheds light on the focus of each of the sexes. It also explains why girls are less likely to imitate aggression than boys, which has a lot to do with the aforementioned ways in which children acquire different values, attitudes, and patterns of social behavior (as instructed or observed by their parents). Examples vary from “that is no way for a lady to behave” to “punch like daddy” which are all evidence for the influence of models that is to some extent determined by the sex appropriateness of the behavior (Lovaas, 1961).
Your child does not learn about lying from Pinocchio. Do not blame it on the movie, your child mostly watches you.
Bandura, A. (1965). Influence of models' reinforcement contingencies on the acquisition of imitative responses. Journal of personality and social psychology, 1(6), 589
Barr, R., Dowden, A., & Hayne, H. (1996). Developmental changes in deferred imitation by 6- to 24-month-old infants. Infant Behavior & Development, 19(2), 159-170. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0163-6383(96)90015-6
Bishop, G. B. (1972). Dimensions of psychology. Ardent Media.
Hartup, W. W. (1962). Some correlates of parental imitation in young children. Child Development, 33(1), 85-96. https://doi.org/10.2307/1126635
Lovaas, O.J. (1961) Effect of exposure to symbolic aggression on aggressive behavior. Child Developm., 32,37-44.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.