Why Adults Forget So Much of Their Childhood

One of the more ‘annoying’ roles a first born is expected to adopt is the ‘sibling role.’ Firsts feel intruded on by their younger siblings; they are expected to be patient when their younger sibling ruins their lego or won’t get out of their room. Luckily, there are some relatively easy interventions a parent can make to avoid unnecessary sibling discord and attempt to encourage greater harmony.

Psychology Today, which is a great source for up to date, relevant psychological insights, articulates the points addressed above, “…a firstborn child experiences terrible feelings of loss when she gives up her old crib to the new baby, and now must share her parent’s love….feels jealous because of the… attention her little sibling gets …[first borns are] resentful because [they] are required to behave better and do more for the family.”

When your eldest sees you spending so many waking hours with their new sibling, they do not see a process they went through. They see how mommy or daddy is giving this new ‘thing’ 100x the attention they are giving them!

To help alleviate this jealousy, it is helpful to share images/videos from their infancy and early childhood, with them. Hearing how they were given just as much attention when they were “that age” just doesn’t have the same impact as actually seeing it does. It is for this reason, it can be enormously helpful to sit down with your eldest and go through old digital family memories.

Take the moment captured and expand on it – tell them what it felt like for you when you saw them blow out their first birthday candles. Empathy is a critical human emotion – it provides both insight and reciprocal emotions.

Unlike many emotions, empathy sometimes requires training and extra nurturing…

Never be afraid to say “I don’t know” or to ask for help. When your eldest poses a sincerely philosophical question such as, “how can you love the baby and me the same?” it’s ok to respond honestly, “I don’t know, but I do, and always will.”

The more faith you have in yourself, and the more you child will. When you blink, they will be asking you what they should tell their first child, when there is another baby on the way….

So, why doesn’t your first child remember they were given the same amount of love, attention and care when they were the same age as their sibling is now? It’s called the great forgetting. Memories before the age of 7, and 12 for most, are simply not encoded with the same degree of precision possible in adulthood. The human brain is complex, to put it lightly, and while it is true that much of what we understand about memory is largely conjecture, we do know if you do not have a hippocampus, you cannot form memories.

As much as we scientists claim what we do is exact and methodological, much of our more concrete understanding of the human brain comes by

accident. Henry Moleson, better known as HM, suffered debilitating seizures, until doctors removed a large section of his brain, saving HM’s life. Sadly, only after the surgery did the surgeons realize the ‘section’ removed was not just ‘involved’ in memory formation, but absolutely essential to its formation. Following his surgery, HM was, and remains, incapable of forming any memory more than 5 minutes long. The guy in Memento was lucky compared to HM….

HM’s experience taught us where in the brain our long term memories are formed – the Hippocampus. Until the age of 7 or 8, a child’s hippocampus remains largely underdeveloped. This explains why only you can remember how when your now 28 year old son peed in your mouth, when he was just 3 months old. The reason it is important for both to understand a basic truth about early childhood memories, is because your first might need help remembering from time to time.