There has been a decent amount of talk about children here lately. In general, I think small kids are pretty amazing. I went to college for five years – I have a general idea of how much I learned in those five years, both from class and just about life in general. By the time a child goes from a new born to five years old, they will have learned how to walk, talk, and be manipulative little shits who know exactly how to get what they want from their completely overwhelmed parents. Face it, as an adult, I’ve thought to myself, “Just give the kid a candy bar already so I don’t have to listen to him scream anymore,” much more than I saw the opportunity for teaching a valuable life lesson. Sometimes instant gratification works both ways.
Our niece had a baby-sitter for a few months last summer when she was less than a year old. If that is the only contact she has, she will never remember the babysitter. If an eight-year-old has a baby sitter for two months straight, they will probably have some recollection of that person for the rest of their life. Why?
There are a few theories out there why most everyone has a blank in their memory up until about 4 years old. A few decent sounding ones talked about how much the brain develops and that it is just impossible for it to store information and retrieve it years later through all of that rapid growth.
My favorite reason that really got me thinking questioned how do you remember something when you don’t know how to talk. Try having a memory that you can’t describe. Even when I have a dream that I would say I don’t know how to describe, what I really mean is that I don’t feel I can use words to adequately tell you what I experienced. This is more of a limitation of our shared vocabulary than my memory being indescribable by words.
For an example that I used, try thinking of the last time you felt really hungry, only don’t think of the words hungry, or famished, or any other words at all. I don’t know about you, but whenever I start thinking, I have a semi-consistent running monologue going on in my head. It sounds a little something like this.
“Remember that time when you were really hungry, I mean, starving, I mean… Ok, just think about that time when you felt that way but don’t describe how bad it felt… Hey look over there. A red pen. Remember when you learned that red is really bad in some cultures and there have been misunderstandings when teachers write ‘100%, A+’ in red ink on a paper and parents think that it is bad… Remember that time when you did bad on that quiz… I wonder if I was a teacher if I would like to give pop quizzes… If I was a teacher maybe I could coach lacrosse… I like to play lacrosse, but I would be a little out of shape for it right now… I should go work out tonight and start doing that more consistently… Speaking of consistently, I should really clean up the kitchen every night before I go to bed… Hmmm, I wonder what I should have for supper tonight, because I am really hungry – oh, not supposed to think the word hungry.”
So, if I can’t think the words, I have a hard time remembering much of anything. How do I expect to remember things that happened to me when I couldn’t talk? And maybe this is just a non-scientific way of saying the brain is really different and memories don’t transfer. Try it yourself.