Why do we forget our childhood?

Why do we forget our childhood?. It’s the language (or lack thereof) baby. [via kottke]
As my cousin said to her toddler son, “Use your words!” And how.

5 responses to “Why do we forget our childhood?”

  1. Tom Brandt

    Thanks for bring this to our attention. I wonder how that theory plays out as we get older. Do we remember things better if we have the vocabulary to describe them? And if we consciously create a description in our mind, do remember thing better? This has stimulated all kinds of thoughts in my older-than-age-6 brain.

  2. Katrina

    I remember, quite vividly, the day that I was playing in our attic, and I had the distinct sensation of something happening in my brain. It felt as if a video camera had just been turned on in my mind–and I somehow knew, intuitively, that my long-term memory had just been “activated.”

    I had to be about four (since I can remember kindergarten pretty vividly, and nearly everything in my life after that). I actually tried to explain to my mother and my youngest sister (my three siblings were 16, 17, and 19 when I was born) what had happened. Since I was only four or five, however, they didn’t believe me.

    But I knew I was right, even if I couldn’t explain or prove it. My mother, from the time I was very little, would quote a statement she had read somewhere: “Learning occurs as chemical changes take place in the brain.” Somehow, I connected that statement with the video-camera sensation, and intuitively understood what had just happened.

    And the evidence seems to bear it out–I have only one memory before that moment, but I can remember nearly everything in my life afterwards (not quite like a “photographic memory” but sometimes close to it).

  3. Susan A. Kitchens

    Fascinating story, Katrina! When you say

    –and I somehow knew, intuitively, that my long-term memory had just been “activated.�

    how much of the terminology is taken from adult terms to describe the experience of the child? (i.e., now that you’ve got words/understanding of what long term memory is, you can describe that experience as the moment it switched on.)

    I’d love to be able to hear the words that the four-year-old used to describe the sensation. Obviously a remarkable one for you, since you tried to tell others about it… I’d love to hear a direct quote (or close to it) of what your four-year-old self told Mom and sister.

    The chemical changes in the brain statement that your mom said… did you make that connection *at that very time* or thereafter?

  4. Katrina

    I can’t recall exactly what I said to my mother and sister (though, in my visual memory, I can see us standing in the checkout line at a large store–I’m pretty sure it was a toy store–as I tried to explain what had happened).

    I definitely would not have used words as advanced as the ones I use now–but I did learn to read before I was three-and-a-half, and I remember reading “The Secret Garden” and “Lassie Come-Home” when I was home for a week with chickenpox in kindergarten (I got the disease from the class bully, of all people!). So I had pretty good language and cognitive skills already (another adult word I wouldn’t have known then!).

    But I don’t think I fully made the connection with my mother’s statement–or even fully realized that it had to do with my memory–at the moment it happened. I was more fascinated by the sensation, and trying to describe it to someone. I knew it was important–surely someone else would help me figure out exactly what had happened.

    (I’ve discovered since that there were a lot of things that I intuitively understood as a kid–but no one would listen to me because I was a child. It’s only now, as an adult, that I’m able to go back and say, “See? I was right.” Which has become one of my personal soapboxes: Listen to your kids; they know and understand more than you give them credit for.)

    So the sensation was what I tried to describe first–because it felt exactly as if a video camera had been switched on behind my eyes. I knew what video cameras were; I knew they recorded stuff. And the sensation felt very much as if I went from simply being myself, in my body, playing with my dolls and horses, to suddenly being able to observe myself as I played. (So, obviously, some sort of self-awareness also kicked in at that point.) I didn’t understand it in those terms, of course–but I knew something had happened. And I know I used the video-camera analogy when I tried to explain the sensation to Mom and my sister.

    And maybe there were some underlying, child-level thoughts about Mom’s statement, though I probably would have thought about it more like, “Something happened in my brain. I felt it. Mom will know what it is and be able to explain it to me.”

    It’s only been over the course of many years–and lots of education and independent reading–that I’ve been able to put all the pieces together in a way that I can explain to other people.

    And now I’m thinking about what I wrote a minute ago about self-awareness. I wonder how much that has to do with when our ability to remember begins. It’s an interesting question, to say the least!

  5. Susan A. Kitchens

    I read something else today about self-awareness. tho it approaches it from a different way. Of conscious awareness of your own thought-processes. It’s one of those “must blog this” things. hafta go and find it and link to it.