Monday, May 7, 2012

Parents as Memory Motivators

Babies start remembering things from the day they are born—which way to turn my head to get fed or that Mom’s likely to come when I cry. But these memories are not available to conscious memory. They are the result of repetition of experiences and are laid down automatically. It’s what we call learning!

When language begins to click in, whether signs or words or both, a whole new tool set is available to help boost memory. The availability of words to hang memories on, so to speak, really increases a child’s ability to remember and to do so at a conscious level.

The dawning of language, however, helps memory development in another, less obvious, way. It provides a stronger motivation to try to remember—and parents play an important role here. As children begin to comprehend what is being said around them, they become motivated to join in the conversations, and many of those conversations involve things that happened in the past. “Remember what we did today? We went to the zoo! And do you remember what animals we saw?” What’s more, it quickly becomes clear to children, that Mom and Dad are especially pleased when the children themselves remember.

The implication is clear. If you crave cozy interactions with these big folks, then learn to play the memory game! And how do they go about learning it? By paying attention as adults model good storytelling. Adults literally teach their children about beginnings, middles, and endings by structuring their own narratives in an organized way: “Remember we saw the flamingos when we first went through the the gate? And then we went into the snake house…..”

Given all this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that children whose parents engage their young children in more conversations about the past are more likely to have better memories.

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to follow us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs® Program
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
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