There might be times in your life when you go over-the-top for your kid, like going full-on for Halloween or Christmas because it’s your baby’s first (or that time when you accidentally banged your child’s head against the door, shh… it’s okay, your secret’s safe with me!) and I bet many a time, your partner would remind you if your child is even going to remember all of this, and it actually makes you wonder when will she start remembering stuff?
Memories can be formed right from when your baby is in your womb. More than a memory, it’s your child’s ability to recognize a voice or a lullaby. After they’re born, they start recognizing faces if seen every day, but these memories start fading as they grow older because their brain is still in the developing process. Conscious memories are formed when your child is around 3 or 4 years, but research suggests that these memories are often pushed into the subconscious mind by the age of 8. Long-lasting memories form when your child is around 7 or 8 years old, and this is when their hippocampus is developed, which helps them remember things consistently. By the age of 8, your child’s memory capability resembles that of an adult and helps form long-lasting memories.
What do babies remember?
When you think of your preschool years or celebrating your 2nd birthday party, there’s a very good possibility that you have little to no memories at all about that time. Research suggests the reason behind this is Childhood amnesia. Sounds scary, right? Well, it’s actually quite normal. Because the hippocampus is still developing in the early years of childhood, we don’t have any rich, profound, and vivid memories of any event from our childhood.
For babies and infants, the hippocampus is still underdeveloped. So, the memory of an 8-month-old child and the memory of an 18-month-old child is still short-term memories. These memories can be recalled even after a few weeks but not after years if not recollected and repeatedly remembered again.
Your 2-year-old child will remember the magician at his birthday party even after 1 or 2 weeks, but the memories which are not repeatedly retold over the years will slowly fade away as the baby grows.
Remember the movie Inside Out when Riley forgets Bing Bong, the cute, big, pink elephant? Bing Bong was Riley’s imaginary friend, and like all imaginary friends of children, Bing Bong ceased to exist when Riley grew up and ended up in the memory dump of her mind.
So, because an infant or toddler cannot make lasting memories, most of our memories from childhood are forgotten. If you think you have a memory of your 1st birthday party celebration, it’s probably because your parents or your grandma kept telling you the same story every year on your birthday, and the memory has been stamped in your brain like yours.
Your baby’s memory before they’re born
It’s not like your baby has no memory at all at any point in time. Your baby can start remembering things right from when they’re in your womb.
I remember my little one would start kicking me in my tummy every time the song by Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock played on the radio, and I found it quite funny but also astonishing when he would try to look in the direction from where the song is playing after he was born. This proves that babies can recall memories even from before they were born.
Your baby’s memory after they’re born
Your newborn baby is able to recall your face, your voice, your smell.
A breastfed baby, when crying, usually calms down when placed in the arms of their mother. This is usually because newborn babies can identify their mother through smell, meaning they can remember the smell and recall it.
This tells us that their brains are developed enough to make short-term memories, which increases quickly but gradually as they live their first year of life. Slowly babies can recognize their toys and remember they have a favorite one they like most.
Your baby’s memory when they are 6 months+
Imagine leaving your baby in a room with strange faces. You’ll surely expect your child to scream their lungs out because none of those faces are familiar to the baby, which scares the baby.
But, immediately if you enter the same room, your baby probably wants to run fast towards you. Why? Because she remembers! She remembers that you’re her mother, a face she sees every day, a face who feeds, bathes, and makes her go to sleep every day.
Till the age of 3 or 4, babies can only make short-term memories that they tend to forget as they grow. When toddlers are 3-years-old, they start to have episodic memories, memories that they can recollect in episodes related to a particular incident.
Still, research suggests that these memories start to fade away by the time they are 7 or 8-years old, but they don’t completely go away, rather they are pushed into their subconscious mind. These memories will be filled with only hazy images when recalled.
Research suggests that babies don’t have long-term memories because they haven’t mastered the skill to speak fluently. Our memories are like an autobiography that we tell to ourselves or to others over time, but as babies don’t speak fluently till they are 3 years, they don’t have the ability to repeat the memory, and thereby start forgetting after some time.
Why should you still make memories with your child?
Even though babies and toddlers don’t remember the exact thing that happened, there are emotions related to memories, and they tend to remember that. It’s like the smell of roses can remind you of your grandmother’s garden when you used to visit when you’re 5-years old.
If you think an adventure trip with your 4-year-old is of no use because he’s not going to remember it, but know that even if your child doesn’t remember how it was on the ride in the teacups, they remember how they felt during the trip, and these emotions can help build and shape their life ahead.
Also, as parents, you should never stop making memories with your kids.
First, because even if they forget, those beautiful memories are going to be forever etched in your mind, and when you look back at life, you’ll realize what a wonderful life you lived with your children.
Second, telling stories from your kids’ life to them forms memories in their minds. Though they have experienced it but don’t remember, your action of telling these stories will make memories for them, and they’ll remember the warm, fuzzy feeling they had then.
So, if you have banged your child’s head on the door, or if his birthday party is ruined because of something, don’t worry about thinking that your child will consider you a bad parent.
She’s not going to remember it anyway, and you can continue to make memories, click lots and lots of pictures to show them when they grow up, and these will be the memories they are going to take with them in their older age.
And, if you worry that the beautiful moments or the best trips you took with your infant are going to be forgotten by them, well- you’re probably right, they will forget.
But, take comfort in the fact that though they have forgotten your special early years together, the memories are an experience. These experiences help shape their brain in a meaningful way, creating knowledge and experiences, making them better people.
So, if you really think about it, memories are never really gone.
Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid, you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best’.