Memories from the early childhood- Why do they fade away? Is it possible to keep them vivid?

Ever since a child is born, the parents do their best to create for him/her life experiences as pleasant as possible. But how much will the child remember over the years?


It is a true fact that most adults cannot remember things that happened in their early childhood.  We do not have memories for the first 3 to 3 1/2 years of our lives.

The phenomenon is called childhood amnesia or infantile amnesia. The term was initially used by psychologist Sigmund Freud in 1899 to define the lack of childhood memories in his adult patients.

Why is it that as adults we have difficulty remembering the first 3 years of our lives?

Scientists think childhood amnesia occurs because the brain of a young child is not sufficient developed to form lasting memories. The truth is that at some point in childhood, people lose access to their early memories. At the age of 7, most of the children can still recall more than 60 percent of an early event, while children who are 8 or 9 recall less than 40 percent. It looks like childhood amnesia onsets in childhood. Even if it is not entirely clear why early memories are so fragile, most probably the childhood amnesia is caused by the immaturity of the structures and circuits in the brain that store events for future recall.

Why bother creating amazing, wonderful life experiences for our children if they will not remember them anyway??

There are some early memories which can survive childhood amnesia: the memories that carry a lot of emotion. Very emotional, very significant events cannot be forgotten. Injuries and visits to the emergency rooms, the birth of a sibling, having lots of fun in an amusement park- these are some of the memories that can last over the years and the amount of details remembered can be staggering.

But it is more likely for a child to remember the negative experiences rather than the positive ones. In these cases, parents can play an important role in what a child remembers. Researchers showed that when a parent helps a child give shape, structure and context to a memory (when it is put into a story), the memory is less likely to fade away. Remembering stories about dangers or injuries can help the child to stay away from that type of negative experiences. The memories of positive experiences can help him develop into a positive, optimistic adult.  With the help of the family, the story of a person’s life can include events that normally should have been lost to childhood amnesia. Photos, videos, the stories of the family members can keep the childhood amnesia away.

On another hand, even if you tried really hard to create some wonderful experiences for your baby, and he will not remember them over the years, it is not the memory of those experiences that really counts, but the experience itself. The moment. The supreme happiness written on your baby’s face.

Read more:

  • Bauer PJ and Larkina M (2013). The onset of childhood amnesia in childhood: A prospective investigation of the course and determinants of forgetting of early-life events. Memory (Hove, England) PMID: 24236647


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