How to help your toddler remember this moment forever

Though there are some moments you may want to remember more than she does.
Though there are some moments you may want to remember more than she does.
Image: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili
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If you’re old enough to read this, you probably don’t remember a lot of your early childhood. The average age of earliest memory for adults is around three years, and the number of memories increases only slowly until it reaches a normal level around age seven. But there’s a way to help your own children remember more.

Toddlers don’t have the same mechanism for storing memories that are developed in later childhood, and it’s not yet understood why children remember some early events and not others. According to a study published in Memory (paywall), children five to nine years old can recall more details about something that happened when they were three if their parents “deflect” to them—i.e., ask questions about the event being discussed—than if they try to help by providing supporting details, or confirming or praising the child’s accuracy. In fact, being asked to recall a memory that remained fuzzy after parental prodding only made the children forget it completely later.

By contrast, being asked questions that didn’t contain information (“What happened?”) made the children get more specific in describing the past event, which helped them make the memory more permanent. So if you want junior to cherish his first trip to Disneyland for the rest of his life, ask him to tell you about it every now and again—just don’t put words in his mouth, or the memories are likely to slip away.