Your baby’s memory

Practical Parenting’s resident psychologist, Dr Richard Woolfson, provides you with an insight into your baby’s mind and memory

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Baby playing with toy

Your baby’s memories from the womb

A baby reacts more strongly to sounds he heard while in the womb than to new sounds after his birth. If you regularly listened to a favourite piece of music from the sixth month of pregnancy, he’ll show recognition of it when he hears it after he’s born.

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How much does your baby remember?

In one study, 3-month-old babies were taught to activate a mobile above their cot. When shown the mobile two weeks later, they seemed to have forgotten how to make it move. But with a gentle reminder, their memories were restored.

When your baby’s only a few weeks old, his memories usually last for up to two days. A research investigation confirmed that by the time he reaches 5 months, he can remember photos of faces for as long as 14 days.

But baby memories can last longer, as psychologists have shown when they played sounds to 4-week-old babies. Two years later, when the toddlers heard the same noises, their behaviour revealed that they remembered many of those earlier sounds.

Playing hide-and-seek to build baby’s memory

When your infant is 3 months old, sit him in a supportive chair. Catch his attention with a small toy. While he looks, place a clean tissue over the toy so that it’s completely hidden. You’ll probably find he loses all interest in it because he thinks, ‘I’ve forgotten what’s under that tissue.’

Even if you leave a bit of the object sticking out from under the tissue, your 3 month old will still forget all about it. But play the same game six months later and he’ll pull the tissue away, even when the toy is completely hidden underneath. By now, his memory’s much better.

Memory’s ages and stages for your baby

*At 3 months he becomes excited when you bring out the bath towel. because he remembers this is what you do before giving him a bath.

*At 6 months he looks for a toy that falls to the floor, because he retains the original mental image of the fallen object. ‘I want to see where that went,’ he thinks.

*At 9 months he’ll raise an upturned cup to find the toy underneath; he remembers he saw you put it there, even though the cup is covering it.

*At 12 months he remembers a simple instruction and then acts on it. For example, you can ask him, ‘Give me the cup, please.’

*At 15 months he thoroughly enjoys those familiar nursery rhymes and songs; his face lights up when you say the first word because he remembers what comes next.

*At 18 months he anticipates what is on TV if he watches the same programme each day; his memory for detail is vastly improved.

Your baby’s different memory types

Your infant has five different types of memory:
*Visual: He remembers sights (he recognises your face)
*Auditory: He remembers sounds (his name)
*Olfactory: He remembers smells and tastes (his milk)
*Kinaesthetic: He remembers movements (shaking a toy)
*Semantic: He remembers language meaning (words and phrases)

Memory Boosters for your baby

*Eye contact: Look directly at your infant when you give him an instruction or say something you want him to remember.
*Fun and games: Your baby will enjoy – and benefit from – playing memory activities with you, as long as you’re relaxed about them and keep them fun.
*Variety: Memory is stronger when the action involves more than just one of the senses, for instance, if it uses sight and sound, touch or smell.
*Name: He’s more likely to remember something when you say his name at the start of the sentence, because that attracts his full attention.

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For expert advice and all the latest on your baby’s development, along with Dr Richard Woolfson’s regular column on baby psychology, check out Practical Parenting magazine each month.

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