Early Childhood Memories Come and Go

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens

memories

Early childhood memories come and go until about the time kids hit their 10th birthdays. Credit: Getty Images

Ask your 9-year-old about his earliest memory, and he may talk about that bug he accidentally swallowed when he was 3.

Go up to him a month later and ask if he remembers the time he swallowed the bug, and you may get that look kids get when they suspect their parents are insane.

Don't worry. Neither one of you has lost your marbles.

It's all part of the phenomenon known as infantile amnesia. The Los Angeles Times reports early childhood memories come and go until about the time kids hit their 10th birthdays. What they are left with at that point are snatches of memories of life before kindergarten.

Like most of us, they remember nothing more than bits and pieces. But even those bits and pieces float in and out of minds during the first 10 years.

This fascinates Carole Peterson, a professor of psychology at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

"These are the memories we use to develop a sense of identity -- who we are and where we come from," she tells the Los Angeles Times.

Although infantile amnesia has been thoroughly studied in adults, Peterson led a team of researchers to find out how it works in children. That's when they discovered memories are like bubbles wandering through children's consciousness.

The Times reports Peterson and her team interviewed the same children two years apart. They found early childhood memories had solidified by age 10, but tended to come and go when the children were younger.

"By 10, their early memories are crystallized," Peterson tells the Times. "Those are the memories they keep."

But the memories are sporadic. We might remember getting a sliver at age 3, or our first taste of licorice. But that's about it.

Kind of ironic, psychology professor Elaine Reese of the University of Otago in New Zealand, tells the Times.

"You think about the emphasis on 0 to 3 in early education, but as adults we can't remember that period," she tells the newspaper. "It's one of those enigmas of science we'd like to understand."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.