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What Do You Remember From Your Childhood?

What Do You Remember From Your Childhood?

My wife says she remembers nothing from her childhood, or at least nothing before the age of seven. I, on the other hand, have memories of being about two years old and climbing out of my crib and finding parents and relatives drinking out of cocktail glasses. Still, unless the experience is a traumatic one, most adults think that children under a certain age don’t retain any real accessible memories into adulthood until maybe the age of five. I have even heard some parents say with practiced dismissal, “Don’t worry about it, she won’t remember any of this in a year.” While this notion, both tragic and convenient, seems to be the status quo, it is now being rightly disputed.

While it would be fair to assume that children don’t remember much from their early childhood because we, as adults, remember just random fragments, and nothing really tangible about those first four or five years. And then there were those famous object permanence experiments that child development theorist Jean Piaget conducted on babies. You know the ones where a desirable object was removed or covered up and the babies seemingly forgot all about the ball or toy. The idea gleaned from those experiments was that young children lived in the perpetual present (not like us adults that are either haunted by our pasts or worrying about the future). But according to a Slate article by Nicholas Day, even the youngest of infants are aware of the past and retain memories far longer than originally thought. Babies can’t speak but they can imitate, and if shown a series of actions with props, even six-month-old infants will repeat a three-step sequence a day later. Nine-month-old infants will repeat it a month later.

So this idea of babies living only for the here and now is flawed at best, as very young children (two and younger) have memory functions very similar to adults. While far less developed than the memories of adults and even teens, babies are developing neural structures crucial for developing tangible memories.

But the true takeaway from the information cited in the Slate article is that the more parents talk about the past, in a highly elaborate way, the more children begin to develop a context for their own memories and stories. Children begin to tell stories—to process their experience—in richer, more detailed ways. Basically, children who are witness to adults talking about the past in detailed and elaborate ways will develop more ample and substantive memories.

Have you witnessed impressive feats of memory in your own children? Do you have substantial memories of your own left over from childhood, and if so, what do you think helped you retain them?

Read more: Aging, Babies, Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Parenting at the Crossroads, ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

72 comments

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2:32PM PST on Mar 4, 2013

thanks.....however, I must wonder how may of my memories are really memories or just hearing stories that I have made into memories.

6:43PM PST on Feb 12, 2013

excellent reminder

8:21AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

An interesting trip down memory lane, delightful.

2:17PM PDT on Jul 13, 2012

I have a whole lot of early childhood memories, and many are of things that only interested me because of my young age, and were certainly not talked about afterward by older family members, so I am very sure that they are actual memories of the event. Like one that comes to mind right now is of a time my family went to get sawdust for garden mulch from a big pile at a sawmill, and I remember climbing on that pile of sawdust, more sawdust than I had ever seen in one place! I was about two years old then, and it is not my very earliest memory. My family moved when I was four, and I have lots of memories of our old house, both exciting and jejune, and of pets that died while we still lived there, and playmates who I moved away from. Sometimes when people think they don't remember their own early childhood, I have to wonder whether perhaps they are just incorrectly estimating their age. In many of my own memories I would probably assume I was older (because I FELT so much older at two or three than kids that age SEEM to me now) if it weren't for changes in my family that I can pin to a specific time, like two seasons spent traveling with my father's tree planting crew, the birth of my sister, my parent's breakup, a summer living with relatives, moving in to a new house, et cetera.

2:02AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

But I ALSO remember that it annoyed me when they changed
me and left me ME LAYING THERE POINTING TO ME.
AND TALKING ABOUT ME BEFORE PUTTING ON A new DIAPER.
Mom said i was fully trained at 18 months so i had to be pretty young.

1:49AM PDT on Jun 6, 2012

I remember getting up from bed very young opening the rear window to empty a qt glass milk bottle filled with water in August on the screaming cats.
I spilled the water as I thought they were fighting and wanted them to not get injured.
Little did i know they were mating.
I only know the age because right after my birthday we moved and years later when i told my mom what I had done; she was surprised and said you were just three years old.

8:45AM PDT on May 16, 2012

I have a few very vivid memories before the age of 5. I don't know why those stuck in my head. But it seems to me they were 'magical' moments to me. They are lovely, lovely memories.

10:27AM PDT on May 11, 2012

MY SON HAS MEMORIES FROM THE AGE OF 18 MONTHS.

I HAVE ALMOST NO MEMORIES FROM MY CHILDHOOD, THE FIRST ONE I CAN REMEMBER IS PROBABLY FROM FIRST GRADE, I WAS JEALOUS OF MY SISTER BECAUSE SHE GOT TO STAY HOME. I HAVE MUCH MORE BAD MEMORIES THAN GOOD. I CANNOT SAY FOR SURE THAT MY PARENTS DID NOT KISS, HOLD OR TELL ME THEY LOVED ME, BUT I DO NOT REMEMBER ANY OF THOSE THINGS HAPPANING.

I REMEMBER WHEN I WAS AROUND 8-10 WHEN I WENT TO BED AT NIGHT I WISHED THAT I COULD JUST SLEEP FOREVER AND NOT HAVE TO WAKE UP.

9:49PM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

My oldest memory, I think, is one of having my diaper changed. I have several other memories from before 5, some good, some bad.

9:27PM PDT on Apr 24, 2012

i don't know how far i can remember any specific memories...maybe 3 or 4 y.o. when my arm came out of its socket accidentally?

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