What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids' Early Memories

What Parents Can Do To Shape Their Kids’ Early Memories

Over the past 18 months, many parents have asked themselves: How much of the pandemic will my children remember? And how might those lasting memories — as well as all the others they carry from their childhood — shape who they become?

I’ve personally wondered about that with my own children, especially my toddler, who has now lived more than half his life during an unprecedented global health crisis. I like to think he’s generally a happy kid who’s had a happy life so far, but how do I know if he’ll be carrying around some not-so-lovely COVID-19 memories for years to come?

While memory is complex and many of those questions can’t really be answered, what is clear to experts is that kids’ memories are stronger and better than they once thought. The long-term memories they form may not be totally reliable, but they can still recollect a remarkable amount from their early years.

Here’s why that matters, and what parents can do about it:

The idea that kids can’t remember anything before age 3 is wrong

Sometimes when I’m annoyed with my toddler’s antics and I’m not necessarily being the nicest, most patient mom, I comfort myself with the idea that he probably won’t remember any of this.

Not so, according to Carole Peterson, a professor who studies language and memories at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada.

“Children often remember farther into the past than we once believed they could,” she told HuffPost.

Several of Peterson’s studies focus on a phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia,” or the idea that kids (and adults!) remember very little about life before age 3 or 4. For decades, experts thought that childhood amnesia was due to the fact that kids’ brains simply could not form memories before a certain point.

But Peterson and other researchers have found that that’s not necessarily true. One of Peterson’s studies, for example, showed that children who have medical emergencies when they’re just 2 years old — and who are interviewed years later — can absolutely remember central components of their experiences. They may not remember them as clearly as children who were older at the time of their health events, but the memories were still there. Other studies suggest that children remember things that happened to them when they were around 3 very well at age 5, 6 and 7, but they start to lose those memories around age 8 or 9.

All of this is to say there isn’t a clear consensus about when young kids form lasting memories, and it depends on the child. Kids also tend to not be very good at accurately dating their memories, Peterson said, which complicates our understanding of all of this. A 4-year-old, for example, might recall an event from when they were 2 but think it was relatively recent.

The bottom line for parents, Peterson said, is that children may indeed remember things earlier than we think they do.

Emotional events tend to stick with children the most

“Anything that is emotionally salient, kids will remember more often,” Jenny Yip, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist, previously told HuffPost. That’s true for both younger kiddos and older children.

In our present moment, that means kids who’ve had a particularly hard stretch during the pandemic might hold on to those memories more than others.

5 tips on parenting your kids without emotional baggage

5 tips on parenting your kids without emotional baggage

There’s no manual when it comes to parenting and sometimes, the road can be rocky – in particular if you have unresolved issues with your own parents or come from a home that was less than stable. Even without realising it, these experiences can cause trauma and will affect how you react to your own children.

Rany Moran, the owner of children’s indoor playground Amazonia, understands these things. Now a trained counsellor, life coach and parenting expert, she has begun a new business doing one-on-one and group life coaching and family counselling sessions.

Read the condensed version of this story, and other top stories with NewsLite.

“I want to build a safe, judgement-free space for personal and professional growth,” she says of her goal.

“Inheriting trauma can mean the cycles of trauma, where a victim of abuse of any form (physical, emotional, psychological) then reenacts and inflicts a similar concept of “pain” onto another person. This can be passed down and inherited from anyone—parents, grandparents, siblings, regardless of gender,” she explains.

“Children’s response to trauma largely mimics that of the parent, the more disorganised the parent, the more disorganised the child,” she continues.

“Children who have experienced violence have problems managing in social settings and tend to be withdrawn or bully other children. During adolescence, they tend to engage in destructive acting out against themselves and others without early intervention the children cannot outgrow these problems.”

As a parent, it can be difficult and even surprising to find yourself navigating your own trauma and how that can affect your children. Without realising it, this can manifest in things like favouritism, or comparing siblings to each other, or constantly fighting with your spouse. “Such toxic emotional stressors can disrupt brain architecture and other organs systems, increasing risk of stress-related disease and cognitive impairment,” says Moran.

And beyond that, there’s also traumatic content (the Covid pandemic, news of violent events) that can affect our children.

Says Moran, “It is our role as parents to explain what’s going on in the world to our children – don’t be afraid to discuss the news and current affairs with them, let them know your point of views on correcting discrimination and how violence, racism or corruption shouldn’t be tolerated.

Discuss instead of shelter them from the realities of life, so that they approach any potential traumatic experiences in the future with educated opinions of their own.”

Here Moran shares her five main tips for how to parent children without trauma.

Empathise with your child’s distress instead of dismissing it as a weakness

When working on a difficult subject, recognise signs of distress and allow your child to stop and take a break. A good parent is a good listener.

Listen to your child’s challenges and validate his or her issues-then explore the root of their problem and what led to it, rather than zooming on the inability of overcoming an obstacle, mistake or wrongdoing.

Recognise teachable moments in daily challenges

This will help young learners be open to lessons of character. Turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones by taking personal responsibility to clear up mistakes by being open to learning from challenges and by replacing shaming with naming values.

Brainstorm ideas to solve problems together. Always remember that humility is the goal not humiliation. When considering teachable moments there needs to be the opportunity for reflection.

Speak to them about trauma at a level they can understand

Kids are traumatized: Here's how to spot it and help

Kids are traumatized: Here’s how to spot it and help

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started in the United States, people have faced so many losses. Children are no exception.

While some kids lost family members or friends, others might be mourning the loss of activities, a normal school year, socialization or other tragedies. Helping children cope with trauma has become more important than ever as the delta variant runs wild in many parts of the country.

“We have been taking our kids’ temperatures more in the last year than we have in their whole life. But that’s been their physical temperature,” Dr. Deborah Gilboa, a parenting expert, told TODAY Parents. “Now we need to take their mental temperature and we need to understand how to check in with them.”

While there has been growing awareness that children are struggling with their mental health, parents can help their children.

“We’ve done a good job in the last year of recognizing that our kids were in a bad spot and it was our responsibility to keep an eye on them and help them,” Gilboa said. “That society-wide vigilance is waning. People aren’t on television every day talking about how hard it is for kids.”

Signs your child may be struggling

Understanding if a child is struggling with their mental health isn’t always easy. Sometimes children complain of physical symptoms, have what seems like a mood swing or sleep a little more or less. Parents who understand their children and foster open dialogue might be able to spot problems earlier.

“It starts with you having a good relational health with your child,” Dr. Candice Jones, an Orlando pediatrician, told TODAY. “If you see that your child has changed behavior or emotions, if they seem like they are not engaged, or enjoying things that they used to enjoy or they’re just out of sorts, take note.”

Signs that a child might be experiencing trauma include:

  • Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Nightmares
  • Nausea
  • Butterflies
  • Headaches
  • Acting out
  • Melting down over little things
  • Regressed behaviors, such as thumb sucking or bed wedding
  • Anger
  • Poor grades
  • Anhedonia or loss of interest

“If the crying lasts for longer than 20 minutes or they become aggressive, they may shout, scream, curse … those are indications that something is going on that they’re not handling it well,” Annette Nunez, a psychotherapist in private practice in Denver, Colorado, told TODAY Parents. “(Some children) just can’t handle emotional and society regulation. They can’t come to grips with either transitions or any subtle change.”

Study Shows “Harsh Parenting” May Lead to Smaller Brains

Study Shows “Harsh Parenting” May Lead to Smaller Brains

Repeatedly getting angry, hitting, shaking, or yelling at children is linked with smaller brain structures in adolescence, according to a new study published in Development and Psychology . It was conducted by Sabrina Suffren, PhD, at Université de Montréal and the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre in partnership with researchers from Stanford University.

The harsh parenting practices covered by the study are common and even considered socially acceptable by most people in Canada and around the world.

“The implications go beyond changes in the brain. I think what’s important is for parents and society to understand that the frequent use of harsh parenting practices can harm a child’s development,” said Suffren, the study’s lead author. “We’re talking about their social and emotional development, as well as their brain development.”

Emotions and brain anatomy

Serious child abuse (such as sexual, physical and emotional abuse), neglect, and even institutionalization have been linked to anxiety and depression later in life.

Previous studies have already shown that children who have experienced severe abuse have smaller prefrontal cortexes and amygdala, two structures that play a key role in emotional regulation and the emergence of anxiety and depression. MRI images of smaller brain structures in youth who have experienced harsh parenting practices. Credit: Sabrina Suffren In this study, researchers observed that the same brain regions were smaller in adolescents who had repeatedly been subjected to harsh parenting practices in childhood, even though the children did not experience more serious acts of abuse.

“These findings are both significant and new. It’s the first time that harsh parenting practices that fall short of serious abuse have been linked to decreased brain structure size, similar to what we see in victims of serious acts of abuse,” said Suffren, who completed the work as part of her doctoral thesis at UdeM’s Department of Psychology, under the supervision of Professors Françoise Maheu and Franco Lepore.

She added that a study published in 2019 “showed that harsh parenting practices could cause changes in brain function among children, but now we know that they also affect the very structure of children’s brains.” Children monitored since birth at CHU Sainte-Justine

One of this study’s strengths is that it used data from children who had been monitored since birth at CHU Saint-Justine in the early 2000s by Université de Montréal’s Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment (GRIP) and the Quebec Statistical Institute. The monitoring was organized and carried out by GRIP members Dr. Jean Séguin, Dr. Michel Boivin, and Dr. Richard Tremblay.

As part of this monitoring, parenting practices and child anxiety levels were evaluated annually while the children were between the ages of 2 and 9. This data was then used to divide the children into groups based on their […]

How trauma informed care could help identify and treat ADHD

How trauma informed care could help identify and treat ADHD

Many things can contribute to what we understand as ‘trauma’. For many, adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), whether this be neglect, abuse, a particularly bad split or divorce, a parent with an addiction or mental illness, can all lead to developing some kind of trauma disorder later on in life. ADHD is understood as a developmental neurodiverse disorder, but can trauma inform how we identify and treat it from an earlier age?

Firstly, to understand ADHD’s links to trauma disorders it is important to distinguish between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex PTSD (CPTSD)

PTSD, often but not always, develops as a result of a particularly traumatising event. NHS mentions events such as an attack or assault, vehicle crash, serious health problems, childbirth. PTSD UK also links the likelihood of developing the disorder to natural disasters. PTSD is also frequently associated with military service, as it was first recorded in war veterans, known then as ‘shell shock’.

According to Mind, common symptoms of PTSD include, ‘vivid flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images of the trauma, nightmares, easily upset or angry, hypervigilance, lack of sleep, irritability’. Another important aspect of PTSD is actively avoiding thinking about the trauma or avoiding reminders, these include: ‘keeping busy, avoiding, feeling emotionally numb, feeling physically numb or detached from your body’.

CPTSD includes many of the same symptoms of PTSD with some important additions, especially as they relate to ADHD. CPTSD is frequently related to those who have experienced early childhood trauma, multiple traumas, and ACE’s. Mind lists some of the following symptoms:

  • difficulty controlling your emotions
  • feeling angry or distrustful
  • feeling as if you’re damaged or worthless
  • feeling like nobody can understand what happened to you
  • avoiding friendships and relationships, or finding them very difficult
  • dissociative symptoms such as depersonalisation or derealisation
  • headaches, dizziness, chest pains, stomach ages
  • emotional flashbacks.

When discussing the similarities between PTSD and ADHD, an article by ADDitude, a publication focusing on the experiences of people with ADHD and raising awareness around it, said that “Seasoned professionals struggle to decipher the differences and overlap between the two conditions”.

The same article also notes how specific symptoms such as poor impulse control, lack of focus, irritability, poor memory, anxiety, and sensitivity to sensory stimuli are all common across PTSD and ADHD.

How are ADHD and PTSD/CPTSD similar?

ADHD is a neurological disorder that specifically impacts the area of the brain that regulates emotions, self-awareness and impulsivity. PTSD and especially CPTSD, as its most commonly a diagnosis given to people who have experienced trauma in their childhood, rewires neural pathways and especially in cases of childhood trauma, affects brain development.

Interestingly, the area of the brain that is impacted by early childhood trauma is the same area involved in ADHD: the prefrontal cortex, which means many PTSD and especially CPTSD survivors experience the same problems with emotional regulation, self-awareness and impulsivity.

Write The Soundtrack of Your Life

When you’re sad, mad, frustrated…, it can be hard to tell what will make you feel better. Maybe you want someone who will just listen without being too nosy, or you might tell yourself distractions like ice cream or TV will soothe, but sometimes, what we really need is time alone to write. This article gives you some tips on how to use writing as a self-care tool.

Throughout my life, I have often used writing as a tool to work through difficulties, make better decisions, and express myself more fully and honestly than I could talking in person.

Shrek was right! People are like onions, covered under layers of expectations, fears, past traumas, pretenses… The act of writing thoughts down is beneficial for a few reasons beyond just getting our thoughts out. When we write our thoughts and feelings down on paper, it gives us a chance to pause and creates the necessary distance to uncover what we are actually feeling, making it easier to identify the root of issues. Logical fallacies and hurried conclusions reveal themselves as we put ink to them.

Many think of writing as a chore—something they struggle to do for school/work—but when you journal-write for yourself, it’s therapeutic, rewarding and insightful. Journaling is a way to get in touch with your thoughts, feelings, and struggles without the fear of judgement.

There is an old saying that says, “you cannot see the world for what it is, only for what you are.” It means that our actions are responses to how we perceive the world. The stories we tell ourselves every day have a huge impact on our lives. These internal dialogues are like what soundtracks are for movies. You might just overlook the soundtracks as unimportant background noises until you find that It’s hard to laugh in even the best comedies when you pair them with suspenseful horror movie soundtracks. When we write, we explore these stories, discover blindspots, and are given the opportunity to start re-writing past wrongs and planning for a different life outcome. What soundtrack does the movie of your life play?

It’s important to pay attention to what is happening in your life and not just keep it all in. Writing about what happened can help you process it better, which is why many psychologists have started recommending journaling as an effective stress relief technique for patients who don’t want to take medication or participate in talk therapy. Journaling demands that you think deeply about your life and experiences. For some, journaling is a way to talk about their anxiety or depression, while for others it is a way to process trauma or abuse they have had in their past. 

The psychological benefits of writing include self-exploration, emotional release, stress reduction, pain distraction, physical healing and much more.  A study was done at Stanford University on patients who were admitted into the hospital for cancer treatments. The studies found that those who wrote every day for two or more hours had better outcomes than those who did not write anything at all. Other research found that writing about traumatic events can lessen the intensity of negative thoughts and feelings about the event in the long term. 

Writing therapy is not only a great way to express your thoughts and feelings, it can also help pinpoint things that you need to work on. Sometimes it can be used as an emotional outlet for memories or feelings too difficult to talk about. People often feel safer when they write about their thoughts and feelings in private, which can make it easier for them to explore their deepest emotions without fear that someone will reject them or judge them negatively.

Journaling is a way to shape your life the way you want it. It gives you a chance to rewrite your life’s story and make it better.  It can help us express ourselves better, process what has happened in our lives more clearly, find inspiration for the future, or unburden ourselves from the things that weigh us down.Journaling is also an opportunity to shift perspective by stepping outside of ourselves. The guided journal prompts from curaFUN help you gain a broader perspective on things you have experienced and open up new ways of thinking about them. It can also help you identify patterns in your life which might not be readily apparent otherwise.

Writing therapy has been clinically proven to improve one’s mental wellbeing. curaFUN’s Quest Depot integrates guided journal, emotional awareness, goal setting, progress tracking and reward/motivation system all in one visual interface that leverages positive social influence, gamification and psychology.  In place of the daunting blank journal page, users selects their current mood emoji and then write or speak (speech to text) their responses to journal prompts.

If you want to start journaling on your own, below are some ideas to get you started.

 The WDEP model

A four-step process that can help you think about what you want to achieve, and how to go about it.

●  Wants. What do you want?

This might be something like “I’d like to start my own business” or “I need more time for myself”.

●  Doing. What are you doing to get what you want?

You can also make a list of things that might help you get closer to your goal. For example, these might include taking on extra work, finding a new job, or hiring an assistant.

●  Evaluate. Is what you are doing helping you get to what you want?

●  Plan. Can you make a more effective plan to get what you want?

Evaluate how successful you are after trying this method and plan accordingly for future obstacles.

ABC model

This is the basis of behavior therapy. It replicates the natural process of learning and understanding of human behavior, which starts with an event or antecedent that leads to a behavior or belief, which in turn leads to a consequence.A: Activating event or antecedent

B: Beliefs and thoughts about this event; what we tell ourselves about it

C: Emotions and subsequent actions that result from this belief system

Though the therapeutic benefits of writing are undeniable, it is important to note that it is not always a replacement for therapy. Journaling can, however, help us become more emotionally aware and process negative events which have happened in our lives. For many, it is a way to help them feel safe in this scary world. 

Writing is always free, private and available.  So start journaling to take care of yourself!