Remember to Remember: Making Recollection a Part of Your Family’s Daily Life
The act of remembering comes naturally for most people. But memory is like so many functions of the brain: the more we exercise it, the stronger it becomes. That means that when you give your children lots of practice at remembering—by having them tell and retell their own stories—you improve their ability to integrate implicit and explicit memories.
So our second suggestion is simply that you remember to remember. During your various activities, help your kids talk about their experiences, so they can integrate their implicit and explicit memories. This is especially important when it comes to the most important and valuable moments of their lives. The more you can help bring those noteworthy moments into their explicit memory—such as family experiences, important friendships, or rites of passage—then the clearer and more influential those experiences will be.
There are plenty of practical ways to encourage your kids to remember. The most natural is to ask questions that lead to recollection. With very young children, keep things simple, focusing on returning their attention to the details of their day. Did you go to Carrie’s house today? What happened when we got there? Just recounting basic facts like this helps develop your child’s memory and prepares her for interacting with more significant memories down the road.
As kids get older, you can be more strategic regarding what you focus on. Ask about a problem they had with a friend or teacher, a party they went to, or the details from last night’s play rehearsal. Or encourage them to journal. Studies have clearly shown that the very act of recalling and expressing an event through journaling can improve immune and heart function, as well as general well-being. More to the point here, though, it gives kids a chance to tell their stories, which aids them in the meaning-making process that improves their ability to understand their past and present experiences.
When we speak to parents about memory integration and encourage them to help their kids talk about their experiences, one question inevitably comes up: What if they won’t talk? Or What if I ask about the art class, and all they say is, “It was OK”? If you have trouble drawing out some meaty details about your child’s life, be creative. One trick for younger school-age kids is to play a guessing game when you pick them up from school. Say, “Tell me two things that really happened today, and one thing that didn’t. Then I’ll guess which two are true.” The game may lack a certain amount of challenge for you—especially when your choices include “Ms. Derrick read us a story,” “Me and Nico spied on the girls,” and “Captain Hook captured me and fed me to the alligator”—but it can quickly become a fun game that kids look forward to. It will not only open up their lives to you, since you get to hear about two of their memories from school each day, but it can also help them get used to thinking back and reflecting on the events of their days.
Another mom who had recently divorced wanted to make sure that she stayed emotionally connected to her daughters as they went through that difficult period. So she began the ritual of asking, as they ate dinner together each evening, “Tell me about your day. Give me one high point, one low point, and one act of kindness you performed for someone.” Again, activities and questions like these not only encourage recollection but also push children to think more deeply about their own emotions and actions, about sharing their days with someone, and about how they can help others.
For specific events you want your child to think more about, look at photo albums and watch old videos. One great way to help them focus in more depth is to design and illustrate a “memory book” with your child. For example, when your daughter returns from her first sleepaway camp, you can collect the letters she sent home, pieces of memorabilia, and the photos she took, and create a memory book with her. She can write little stories and notes in the margins: “This was my cabin,” or “This was after the shaving-cream fight.” Creating a book like this prompts your daughter’s memory about some of the details she might otherwise lose in the coming months and years, while also giving her the opportunity to share with you more about this important event in her life.
Simply by asking questions and encouraging recollection, you can help your kids remember and understand important events from the past, which will help them better understand what’s happening to them in the present.