Updated: Jun 2, 2019
Understanding how memory is stored in the brain can be an important aspect in parenting. It can help you understand why your child might be responding in a way that seems SO out of character for them. Sometimes, an out-of-character response can be for something very simple. Think of HALT:
If any of these are true, there could be a rather easy fix. Give them a snack, talk to them about their angry feelings, encourage them to rest. If not, then it’s time to look at whether your child has unprocessed memories.
There are two myths about memory that have persisted:
Myth #1: Memory is a filing cabinet
This is simply not true. It’s not that tidy and neat. Memory is all about association. It’s the way an event from the past influences the person in the present. With each experience, neurons “fire,” which means they ignite and then join with other neurons. These links create associations. With these thinks, each experience creates an actual structural change in the brain! The brain will always prepare itself for what has happened before. The past shapes the present and future. So, it’s necessary to understand the past and the ways the events shape how you or your child see current circumstances.
Myth #2: Memory is like a photocopy machine
The truth is, memory is NOT an exact reproduction of past events. We often think they
are, but they aren’t. Retrieved memories are altered. Your state of mind when
memories are encoded and when the memories are retrieved change the memory.
You might have also heard about implicit and explicit memory. Implicit memory is memory without knowing you’re remembering. It’s something that seems second nature or automatic, like changing diapers when you’re 3 kids in. Explicit memory, on the other hand, is the ability to recall learning. So, it’s more of an ability to think about what you remember or have learned. When a child responds out of character, it might be telling you to explore the implicit memory around what’s taking place. When you can move from implicit to explicit memory with your child you are creating power by integrating the memory. The process brings insight, understanding, and even healing.
You need to take a look at the memory, bring light to where it’s been dark, in order to make a memory explicit. Sometimes parents hope that their child will “forget” about a painful experience. What the child really needs is help integrating the implicit memory, turning the experience into one that gives power and understanding. By gaining understanding, the child can become an active author in their own life.
How do you do this? Here are two strategies to help integrate implicit and explicit memory:
#1- Use the Remote of the Mind
In this strategy, parents encourage their children to use the pause, rewind, and fast forward button when working through a memory. You can help your child pause the story when you’re retelling it and it starts to become overwhelming, then fast forward past the scary part, and see that the ending was happy and everything was ok. After seeing everything was ok, the child has more courage to return to the entirety of the story to help integrate what took place.
#2- Remember to Remember
Just like other areas of the brain, memory needs to be used to be strengthened. By starting to access memory at a young age, this will help children interact with more significant memories in the future. Journaling is a great tool for this. Telling stories is another option. An idea that is not as commonly used is creating “memory books.” Give them a chance to document through pictures or anything else from a sacred memory, say a summer camp, into a book they can later return to.
By helping your child integrate their implicit memory, you are giving them a chance to think about their thinking. You’re freeing them up from some automatic reactions that seem out of character to really CHOOSE how they want to respond in a situation. This gives them a sense of power and mastery over their lives!