How to help kids remember their earliest years later in life

Helping kids hold onto fading memories.
Helping kids hold onto fading memories. Photo: Getty

Remembering events from early in a child’s life is limited after the age of seven, with most of them experiencing childhood amnesia – or the inability to recall those memories from the earliest years of their lives.

Researchers believe that it is at the age of seven that early memories start to fade as underdeveloped brains contribute to the ability to retain earlier memories. As the child gets older and the brain develops, these early memories can get replaced by memories from older ages. Therefore, making those childhood memories that caused so much laughter and joy in the preschool and early primary years, no longer accessible to the child.

The study conducted by Emory University analysed the onset of childhood amnesia and determined that mothers who elaborately reminisce events from a child’s life help contribute towards the creation of “autobiographical memory”, which facilitates the availability of a larger selection of early childhood memories later in life.

However, it is not just up to mothers to help children preserve and cherish early childhood memories. The whole family, including grandparents and friends can be involved in lessening the effect of childhood amnesia. Here are a few ideas to help kids remember their earliest years later in life:

Tangible keepsakes – photos, artwork, locks of hair, baby teeth, storybooks and toys are all items that can take up residence in a ‘keepsake’ box and bringing it out often and reminiscing about why that item is so special allows the whole family to cultivate great family bonds. Creating these mementoes can also encourage creativity in producing these collections, thus contributing to a family legacy.

Digital treasures – with the availability of cheap and efficient online storage spaces, comes the ability to chronicle experiences in the form of virtual albums, private (or public) blog posts and even entire school projects. The ease of accessing information combined with built-in functionality (no more second guessing when the photo was taken) helps add to the benefits tangible keepsakes can bring. There are also apps that help you record your own recollection of events for the benefit of the younger generation, the advantage to which is that you can involve your children in these processes, thus building up speaking skills in the same process.

Storytelling – incorporating a session into family get-togethers where all members of the family can have a turn retelling a favourite event from the past involving the child can help bolster memories of the event. Even toddlers as young as two can get in on the act, with studies showing that talking about an event soon after it occurs can help form memories.

‘Then and Now’ items – videos and growth charts are great vehicles to help children understand the process of growing up and how far they have come in terms of development. Watching a little baby crawl, your now walking, talking child may not believe they were the baby in the video, but it can help them comprehend the impact of time and trying repeatedly to master a task – an important lesson at any point in time.

Journals – yes, children younger than seven can be taught how to keep a diary even if they’re just mastering the art of writing. Noting down the day’s events in limited words or even pictures bring about the same advantages as it does in adults – it helps them remember better. Reviewing the journal at the end of the year and discussing with children about particular events that year solidifies memories.

Visiting old hangouts – whether it be a walk along the streets of your child’s old neighbourhood or holidaying in spots where you used to spend time as a family when the kids were younger, revisiting old hangouts and talking about the time spent there is another way to evoke and retain memories.

How do you reminisce in your family? Are there any specific tools or traditions you follow to help them recall early childhood events?