Memory is necessary for your baby to learn. Her memory started working before she was born by storing sounds, tastes, and smells in the womb. Every experience she has activates neurons in her brain and links them with other neurons, so that they fire at the same time. This process constantly changes the makeup of her brain.
Your baby associates present experiences with ones that she had in the past; memories of her past experiences influence her present thoughts and feelings. For instance, if you and your baby enjoy dancing together to a favorite song, when she gets older and hears the same song, she may feel happy without knowing why.
In addition, her present emotional state can influence how she remembers a past experience. For example, if her older brother shares his toys today, she may forget that he grabbed a toy from her yesterday.
Your child uses two types of memory: explicit and implicit. Explicit memory is a conscious recollection of a specific experience in the past. When your child remembers the time that she dug in the garden at her grandmother’s house, she has an explicit memory of that event.
Implicit memory is based on automatic perceptions, emotions, bodily sensations, and behaviors that are embedded in her brain. Your child uses implicit memory when she rolls over, sits up, walks, or tosses a ball without thinking about it. Habits, or conditioned responses from repeated experiences, cause her to form expectations. For example, when she retrieves a previous memory that is related to her current experience, she anticipates what will happen next based on that memory.
Implicit memory is a generalized, ingrained type of memory. It requires no explanation as to why something happened because it does not relate to recall a specific event. Implicit memories can be both positive and negative. The feeling of love and safety in your home is an example of a positive implicit memory that your child may carry into adulthood.
However, if she hears you say that she is sweet but not too smart, she may view these impressions as truth and then conclude that she is not smart without understanding why. This is an example of a negative implicit memory. Your child uses only implicit memory until she is about 18 months old.
You can help your child integrate her memories by reframing her implicit memories as explicit ones through storytelling. When you talk to your child about the specifics of each day’s events, you help her put her feelings and thoughts into perspective before they become implicit memories.
Memory helps your baby make sense of her world, recognize patterns, and create expectations for the future. With use, her memory gets stronger, fuller, and more supportive as she makes connections and learns.