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Time to Remember

I have previously written about the importance of using personal memories to enable empathetic communications with our children. I’d like to talk more here about how we can help our children develop strong recall skills.

The nature of memory is such that sensory and experiential events stick the most effectively, so we know that every time we are sharing an experience with our children, we have the opportunity to build powerful shared memories. But we are also stuck in a strange dichotomy.

On the one hand, we have a deep seated need to ensure that our children’s memories are predominantly happy ones, and on the other, we realise that (certainly up to the age of seven) those memories we are busy creating are more likely than not to disappear into the ether.

What about you? What is your earliest memory, and why do you think that particular event has stayed with you into adulthood? Is there anything you can learn and apply to building happy memories for your children?

Of course we realise that even though very young children may find it harder to remember specific incidences, we are nevertheless putting down deep layers of experience that will accumulate to build a child’s perception of and attitude towards life - that’s why we’re bothering after all - and they may surprise you, especially later on. Who hasn’t had a dispute over the details of a shared memory with an older member of the family? Which is the more reliable? Who absorbed the information more accurately at the time, and whose recall of it is more exact now? It’s a difficult call.

One of the ways to help embed memory for you and your children (and to avoid having that argument in the future) is not to wait too long. Try having a conversation the next day, in a few days time and the following week, talking about the event you want to imprint. Don’t just talk about what happened, share the emotion. In doing this, we’re helping the brain to fire all kinds of complex neural pathways.

Be clear about the structure, the order of events, but also encourage your child to talk about how they felt at the time, as those events unfurled. You are teaching them it’s good to remember, to process even negative experiences, and to develop their own personal perspective as well as learning about yours.

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