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How to Help Your Child Build Great Memories


What Are Your Earliest Memories?


My father insists that he can remember being born. When questioned, he describes the darkness of the birth canal and his emergence into daylight. He was born at home, in 1934.


He assures us that he wondered, in his little baby brain, “Where was I before I came here?”


Some members of our family find this story hard to swallow, but I am willing to believe.


I can date my own earliest memories to about sixteen months old, when my younger sister was born. With her arrival, I had to move out of my room and begin sharing with my older sister, which was not a hardship, so much as a change to my previously comfortable and presumably self-centered world.


There she was, in my bedroom, this little bundle of blankets and baby clothes. She slept a lot, and we had to be very quiet, so as not to wake her.   


At the time, it did not occur to me that we would grow up to be the best of friends and confidantes; I barely registered that she was human.


I ask my sons to share their earliest memories, but they do not go back quite so far.


When he was younger, my ten-year-old used to open many stories with, “A long time ago, when I was a dog...”


Now, he can reliably share descriptions of the house we lived in when he was two, but most of his remembered experiences tend to be much more recent.


His older brother can barely remember what we did on vacation last week.


Are early childhood memories important?


I’m not sure.


Don’t our memories become our stories – the scraps of history and lore that link us together as families? They ground us in time and space, helping us to feel at home in the vastness of the universe.


Yes, I guess I do think they’re important.


Memory experts Wolfgang Schneider and Michael Pressley call these specific types of narrative, “autobiographical memories.”


As contrasted with a young child remembering that the mushy stuff on the end of a spoon is food, autobiographical memories involve specific events that occur in one’s life at a specific place and time.


In their massive work, Memory Development Between Two and Twenty, Schneider and Pressley report that the average adult does not recall personal events that occurred before the age of three and a half years. Some have earlier recollections and others cannot remember much of anything from the first six or seven years of life.


Here is the “aha” moment: Storing and recalling autobiographical memories is a learned behavior. As our children develop increasingly advanced communication skills, we model memory skills for them, by telling them our stories and helping them to tell their own.


What a great conscious parenting skill to work on.


This requires, of course, a commitment to a certain amount of social interaction with your child. Assuming you are okay with that, here are a couple suggestions to Help Your Child Build Great Memories:


1. For preschool children, help them to tell their stories through a series of leading questions. Teach them to create their narrative by walking them, step-by-step (or question-by-question) through a recent experience that was particularly important to them.


2. As your children get older, invite them to tell their stories independently. Ask them about the best and worst things that happened to them each day. This question works equally well when they are just getting home from school, or when you are tucking them in bed at night.


3. If your child tends to start conversations in the middle of a story, gently guide them back to the beginning. Ask supportive questions, such as, “When did this happen? Where were you when this happened? Who is Sarah??”  Help them to organize their memories, so that they can take root and be available for recall later.


4. When you go on a big family vacation, talk about your experiences at the end of each day, or review the entire trip afterwards. Look at your vacation photos together and take turns telling the stories that go with them.


5. Share your own stories with your children – especially those that involve your childhood, or your child’s infancy. Both topics are winners.


6. Encourage your child to practice recalling their memories, by sharing their stories with family and friends. (What are grandparents for, anyway?)


You can have some fun with this, even if you don't remember nursing at your mother's breast. Make it tonight’s dinner table conversation, or share with our readers here:


What is your earliest memory?



Related Posts:


Read more about helping your child to find their place in life in, Roots and Wings: How to Make Your Children Feel at Home in the Universe.


For more thoughts on conscious parenting and the importance of our interactions with our children, please see, What is Conscious Parenting?




Schneider, Wolfgang, University of Wurzburg and Pressley, Michael, University of Albany, State University of New York; Memory Development Between Two and Twenty. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.



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