Yes, Your Child Will Get Amnesia... Relax, It's Normal
You'll be amazed at what your child remembers now and what he'll forget later
My 3-year-old son remembers a lot. He talks about playing with his aunt’s dog (that happened a few weeks ago), our vacation to the Jersey shore (this past summer) and his old preschool (he hasn’t attended it in nearly a year.)
It’s tremendous fun to recount old memories with him and hear his take on past events–just one of the many joys of watching a child grow up into someone with whom you can actually have a meaningful conversation.
But new research indicates that even though he’s got the capacity to recall memories from his toddler years now, I shouldn’t expect him to retain these little nuggets a decade from now.
Psychologists at Emory University have determined that age 7 is about the time for the onset of childhood amnesia–a century-old term used to describe the dissipation of children’s earliest memories. Their findings were published in the journal Memory.
Emory psychologist Patricia Bauer, who led the study, likened children’s brains to colanders and their memories to orzo, a small kind of pasta. “As the water rushes out, so do many of the grains of orzo,” Bauer said in a statement released by Emory. “Adults, however, use a fine net instead of a colander for a screen.”
Bauer and her colleagues reached their conclusion after studying 83 children and recording their memories at age 3 and following up with them years later–at different ages–to see what they still remembered. They found that children between the ages of 5 and 7 could recall 63 to 72 percent of the events they first described at age 3, but children ages 8 and 9 could remember just 35 percent.
But the older children seemed to have one advantage, at least: Though they remembered fewer events, they offered more details about the events that did manage to stick in their brains–a result that may have to do with the richness of particular memories as well as with older children’s increasing language skills, Bauer said. Being better able to articulate these memories, she said, also serves to further “cement” them in children’s minds.
I’m interested to see which of my son’s early memories, if any, make it past the so-called “boundary of childhood amnesia.” I think our Jersey shore vacation–with its ice cream treats and boardwalk rides–is a strong contender, but I know I’d also be foolish to underestimate the staying power of the dog.
It’s a good thing I’m writing down my expectations now, because we’re still a good four years away from when my son will supposedly hit the childhood amnesia boundary. My own “fine net” notwithstanding, I just don’t think I’ll remember any of this by then.
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