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Early Memories Help Build Self-Esteem

Will this kid remember this moment?

What is your earliest memory? How old were you? Do you have a whole event remembered, or just fragments of sensation? Are you sure this memory is real?

Memory is tricky stuff. Especially our earliest memories, which fade over time. As any parent knows, young children have an amazing capacity for memory: they can recall events going back practically to babyhood, with a surprising amount of detail. But then these memories fade. By the time they reach their teens, most children can’t recall anything before about age 3, and as we get older, our childhood memories fade even more.

We don’t have to lose these memories entirely, though. There are tricks parents can deploy to preserve childhood memory. It’s worth doing. A recent study shows that kids with stronger early memories also have better self-esteem and coping skills.

An article in the Wall Street Journal explores some new discoveries about what kids remember and how. The science is fascinating, but one detail stood out to me as I was reading:

Psychologist Robyn Fivush at Emory University, another early-memory expert, has shown that children whose mothers reminisce elaborately with them, eliciting their views and relating them to new experiences, at ages 3, 4 and 5, tend to have earlier first memories as well as better coping skills and higher self-esteem than those who mothers don’t. “We create a sense of who we are through these memories,” says Dr. Fivush.

Building stronger early memories helps build self-esteem. This makes sense as soon as I read it, but I never would have made the connection on my own.

My kids love memory-building games. They are constantly asking me to tell them stories about their lives as babies, and about my own childhood. They’re clearly building a library of family stories they can draw on for a sense of who they are and how the world works. Their favorites are stories that connect them to me. When my older daughter learned to ride a bike, for example, she became extremely interested in the details of my own childhood bike-riding memories.

In addition to the ways it just comes up in conversation, we have a nighttime ritual of telling family stories about when the girls were babies or when their dad and I were young. After bedtime books have been read and the lights are out, their dad or I will often sit quietly in the dark telling these tales till the girls fall asleep.

How do you keep memories alive for your kids?

Photo: brianna.lehman

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