Friday, May 9, 2014

The childhood memories that fade

My son is telling me a story. It is a story about a day he spent just with me because Daddy was on a motorcycle trip. He tells me about the fun that we had during the day, including doing yoga together, making some blueberry oatmeal bars, cleaning the house, playing some board games together and then reading a new book together.

There was nothing special about the day - it was just a normal Saturday, but here's the thing: It's accurate. All the events he describes to me were completely accurate. And my son does this all the time. He tells me about events from his recent past and from a year ago. So, clearly he has an excellent memory.

But, I often wonder when those memories will fade and become part of the childhood fuzzy-memory soup we all experience as adults.

Turns out, the answer is around seven.

Researchers studying childhood amnesia (the gradual loss of our early memories) have found that by the age of seven, children start to lose around 40% of events from their early childhood - including things that happened to them when they were only three.

So, now my question centers around which of my son's memories will last? Well, we know that memories with a lot of emotion around them tend to stick - things like childhood trauma. But, since I don't really want my son to have childhood trauma, I think we'll focus on the second type of memories that tend to stick: Ones that are part of a story. The researchers found that when a parent helps a child give shape and structure and context to a memory, it's less likely to fade away.

So, that is what we will work on - telling stories around the memories of my son. Giving him context and structure - not just for the big event days, but for the non-event days, too. It's all part of his life story, which is part of his family story.

And that is worth keeping until adulthood. 

What memories do you wish you still had?

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