How Well Do Toddlers Remember?
Being able to recall past events is a sign that your child is developing a sense of self. Here’s what you can do to help.
At a noisy family gathering we attended recently, my 17th month old, David, started fussing. In search of some calm, we stole away to upstairs bedroom. There David went from grumpy to his ecstatic when he found a squishy red ball hidden underneath a table.
For close to an hour, he entertained himself and me, by hurling it around the room.
A week later we made a visit back to Aunt Julie’s house. The moment we walked in, David bolted it up the stairs. I caught up with him in the bedroom, where he was emerging from under the table, with a huge grin on his face and the red ball in his hand. I was amazed at my toddler's good memory because I had forgotten all about the ball.
Even before age 1, babies have the ability to recognize things, essentially, to recognize that they've seen them before. When an infant smiles as mom walks into the room, that’s memory in action. But it's less clear whether a 1-year old can recall things on their own.
For instance, does the baby think about his mother when she's not there? Can he recall events that have happened after those experiences are over?
Doctor Meltzolf’s experiments have found that the typical 14-month-old can observe an unfamiliar action, such as tapping on a box with his forehead, then remember and repeat the new task up to a week later. A 16-month-old can remember to do it when he sees the same box for months later. “When the baby repeats and action, she must be recalling the first time she experienced it,” he says. “The research shows that even toddlers have recall memory as well as recognition memory.”
Others take a different view. “I question whether toddlers sense of self is developed enough to remember himself in a particular episode,” she says Katherine Nelson Ph.D. ,at distinct distinguished professor of psychology specializing in memory at this City University of New York City Graduate Center. One-year-olds who seem to be recalling may actually have may actually be having an experience akin to the one adults have when they remember a familiar place - they know it but they don't know or care, how they know.
Test measuring how well children recall multi-step sequences show that memory gradually improves between the ages of 12 months and 24 months.Then a child nearest age 2, he's capable of remembering much more complicated task and events for longer.
That's because changes in that region of the brain responsible for storing and encoding memories also enable toddlers to learn language. When you have language, you have a system of labeling labeling your memories. That helps you better access them.
The ability to retrieve and describe past events marks the beginning of what psychologists call "autobiography memory." Your toddler may start to refer to herself as me at this age. She’s beginning to put herself into memory scripts creating a life story for herself.
Talking to your child about everyday events can help reinforce the notion that he is a person with a unique set of experiences. Jog your toddler's memory skills by reminiscing and asking about his life.
Jennifer in Pennsylvania uses this strategy to remind her 23-month-old daughter about long distance relatives. “I ask Naomi things like ‘Remember when we went to see Grandpa and Grandma last time? It was Christmas. What did we do?’ Sometimes she'll answer and other times she won't, but I can I but I keep up the conversation either way.
Rituals, routines, and repetition also improve your toddler's memory. Predictably gives your child is sense of order over the world and helps him anticipate the future. Reading books, singing songs, and reciting nursery rhymes over and over allow your child to commit words, images, and rhythms to memory.
Playing a simple form of the game concentration with your toddler. Lay out three or four objects on the floor, and cover each with a cloth. See if your child can say what's under each cloth before pulling it off. If your 1 year old isn't talking much yet, tell her what object to look for and see if she can find it.
Throughout your 1-year-old memory is growing leaps and bounds, sadly he won't be able to hold onto many of his recollections into adulthood, at least not consciously. Our earliest memories, experts say, tend to date from age 3. Scientists don't know why infantile amnesia occurs. Even though a 2 1/2 to 3-year old can vividly recall specific events from when they were 1 or 2-years old, they eventually lose this ability as they get a bit older.
Studies show, however, that your toddler experiences may stick with him unconsciously. Researchers at Temple University, in Pennsylvania asked school-age children to pick out pictures of kids who had gone to daycare with them as toddlers. Many kids couldn't, but galvanic skin-response machines (basically lie detectors) found that children reacted subtly when they viewed photos of their former classmates.
Your toddler may not retain a specific conscious memory of what's happening now. But it appears that he's able to hold on early impressions at a deeper unconscious level. That means that the warmth, security, and love you provide now will be things your child will never forget.
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