Understanding How Memory Works in The Young Child In Your Life will Change the Way you are With Him or Her

It used to drive me a little crazy before I understood early child development and in particular brain development when my son would come home from kindergarten and present a completely blank face at the question, "What did you do today at class Diggy?" Sometimes it really startled me when I knew it had been a special event/big field trip and I'd wonder if everything was ok!

 It is not common knowledge how children’s memory works in the first 7 years of life.  You can’t say children don’t have good memories. “My child has an excellent memory. Just yesterday out of the blue he recalled in detail a time he had spent with his uncle at the zoo 2 years ago.”… and yet they don’t remember what happened this morning at school . Hmmm. Upon reflection most parents agree it is indeed puzzling.

The Science: Yes, the way memory works is different for children and adults. Up until 6 -7 years memory is event, site, sensory specific. Something in their sight, hearing or environment may trigger a whole memory with intricate details. The other day my daughter and I were hiking up to Grassi Lakes and she remembered breathe by breathe her encounter with the squirrel she had years ago. Site specific recollection. The way I think of it is that their memory has more of an emergent quality - emerging from sensory/site triggers. They can recall things on demand sometimes but it is not their go-to way of remembering without some kind of trigger and it can be a bit stressful for them to be asked to do something that the hardwiring isn't fully there yet. 

 This is not to say that they are not learning but to say that they do not learn like us. Their primary learning is through imitation, imagination and movement - they take it in and then move it into their growing bodies. 

It's pretty beautiful when I think about it all and honour the unique stage of life they are in. Children's inherent way of being invites us to be in the present moment with them. They really do best when they can be engaged in the moment fully - when not pulled away from it by our adult past and future thinking and talking. Presence comes most natural to them at this time of life. They so want us fully there with them as they discover the world.

How does this change my parenting/interactions with little ones:

1. When I'm teaching young children I let the parents know what we did so they don't need to ask the child and instead let the memory of our day's events emerge on their own time and place. If I've 'taught' them a verse/story about some plant the whole thing may come out on a future walk with her family when she spots that flower - its fascinating to me the detail of this emergent memory …. I'm guessing if you're a parent or teacher of young children you likely have had similar experiences...

2. I try to catch myself when I'm just talking abstractly with them about the future or what have you. I find it grounding to shift my attention to the NOW and I do this by not talking so much and by paying attention to what's happening just then - I may talk about what my senses are picking up - "mmm, do you smell that?" "oh, a bird's singing…hmmm." "wow, the light coming in thru the trees" ---  mainly I try to enjoy myself and be curious …. and share that … wonder keeps me in the HERE and NOW and is my key  to the richness of the moment … there's not a lot of pushing to do or get here/there when I'm in this space with them -- lightheartedness, warmth of connection and a lot of humour is more what we find …(-:

3. Hmmmm… I wonder. These 2 words have been potent in my life in nurturing my connection with children and in supporting their exploration of this crazy beautiful world. When I'm about to launch into some huge abstract explanation I will - if I'm awake enough to catch myself - lean on these words instead …way more magic happens ...

I am interested in the simple ways we can  nurture mindfulness  'off the meditation cushion/mat' in the trenches of our real lives. (-: Understanding children and following their inherent wisdom way of being has helped me engage a little more fully in my life. Thanks kids!