When do kids actually start to remember things?
How much of your childhood do you remember? Is there a particular age that you start remembering from? Read on to find out!
As a mother, I spend so much time and effort creating beautiful memories with my children. I watch them in awe and often find myself wondering just when kids start remembering things. How much of these beautiful moments will they fondly reminisce twenty years from now?
I vividly remember when I was six and the aspiring gymnast in me attempted some tumbles only to fall off the bed and fracture my arm. Sitting under the blinding hospital lights, I remember how terrified I felt. I wondered why the nurse couldn’t be a tad bit gentler with me.
When I was five, I remember my mother would take my older brother and me to the library every week. I remember tingling in excitement when I heard the word ‘library’. I would gleefully fill my bag with books about faraway places and people.
Albeit vaguely, I remember when I celebrated my four-year-old birthday in Australia. Wearing a pretty tulle dress, I cut a pretty cake and I remember that delicious chocolate ice cream that my dad had gotten me.
I have a huge kaleidoscope of memories. Some happy, some sad, some traumatic and some so heartwarming that they make me tear. But when I start putting things into perspective, I realise that I hardly have memories of my toddler years. Whatever memories I have of my preschool years are vague and fuzzy.
So when do kids start remembering things?
What do children remember before the age of three?
Up until the recent years, many things about memory and early brain development remained a mystery. But from recent studies done on infants, researchers have new insights about the development of long-term memory in infants.
Here’s the good news mums – one thing that young children never forget is the sound of your voice.
Dr. Renee Spencer, a licensed counsellor with a doctorate in counseling psychology, said,
“One of the explicit declarative memories that they’ve been able to find in young infants is remembering their mother’s voice. Young babies were also able to respond through their emotions.”
She explained that as soon as they heard their mother speak, infants would smile or soothe themselves. It’s unclear how long infants have been able to know their mother’s voice in utero, but it’s known to be the first place that they absorb information.
So don't take the time that you are pregnant for granted. The time that you carry your child is actually your first chance to speak to your baby!
Different Types of Memory
On the note of what a baby remembers in utero, it would be useful to note that there are two types of memories.
1. Semantic Memory
Semantic memory, also known as survival or adaptive memory, is not a conscious occurrence. It is the type of memory that helps retain survival, basically geared towards helping an organism enhance its chances of surviving.
When infants cry for their mothers to nurse or comfort them, they are using survival memory.
2. Declarative Memory
Declarative memory (seeing and knowing what), also known as explicit memory, refers to memories that can be consciously recalled (or declared). It consists of information that is explicitly stored and retrieved. The activation of the declarative memory is when kids start remembering things.
When Kids Start Remembering Things in the Toddler and Preschool Years
During this period, it is especially important to encourage routine and repetition for children for this is when kids start remembering things. Recall and repetition will make things go into long term and stay because it becomes more of a categorised and organised piece of data that is stored in their memory.
The more you start to recall something, the easier it will be to pull it back up.
Dr. Spencer also emphasised the importance of early memory and brain development before the age of five.
"The brain is so pliable while they are little that it's the best time to teach them things because they can absorb it all. The more you repeat, the more they repeat," she explained.
It's true isn't it? If you think about when kids start remembering things, a good gauge would be their nursery rhymes. Generation to generation, the first songs we remember and continue remembering for the rest of our lives are all pretty much the same aren't they?
What memories are most vivid?
Remember how I started this article talking about the time I fractured my arm and sat in the hospital feeling rather petrified? Well, as you can guess, when kids start remembering things, at a younger age, traumatic or painful memories stick out the most.
Unfortunately, during the early years (between three to seven), the happier and nicer memories take a backseat.
Dr. Spencer explained that we are inclined to remember something that was more traumatic because it hurt us.
We want to remember what we did that caused us pain versus something exciting we experienced. We try to prevent things from happening, so we remember the things that cause us hurt in order to prevent it from happening again.
Having said that, some children, or even some of us, just don't learn. The fractured arm never stopped me from attempting stunts. I remember clearly how it went awry, but somehow I chose to do it again anyway!
The middle years (seven to ten)
In their school going years, between the age of seven to ten and older, there is much more development of the hippocampus (responsible for the processing of long-term memory and emotional responses) and the ability to recall. This is when kids start remembering things in a more organised manner for they organise and store information more effectively. That's when they start sequencing.
And that's probably why we will never forget our primary school best friends. Be it the ones who bullied us, the ones who were the teachers' pets and the ones who never stopped getting into trouble!
If you compare our kids to those of the past, or even us when we were kids, you will realise that children these days seem to remember so much more! And you have smart phones and social media to thank for that. Parents seem to document almost every move of their child and that's when kids start remembering things from a much younger age!
Those seemingly silly pictures you take of them and their favourite toy might help trigger their memory as an adult and give them a flashback of a day that they thought was gone forever.
Dr. Spencer affirmed this,
"They are much more inclined to remember things from a younger age by seeing something like a picture or visualisation".
So remember mums and dads, the things that you say and do and the experiences that you create for your child in their earliest years go a really long way. Do all that you can to prevent them from experiencing anything traumatic for when kids start remembering things, you really don't want them to have those terrible memories!
And if anyone tells you that you are taking too many pictures, tell them you are helping your children to safeguard precious memories to look back on in the last hour of their life!