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Sunday, May 1, 2011

What will your kids' childhood memories be?

Have you ever wondered what enduring images are tucked away in your children's heads?

Our view of what our children might remember isn't always accurate- it's coloured by our own emotions and priorities. Think back to your own childhood.  What emerges first from the mist? And do you think your own parents would have been able to guess what you remembered?

Putting ourselves 'in the zone' of childhood like this helps us to see our children's point of view. It's so easy to forget what it's like to be a child.  We can learn from what we ourselves remember. Here are some of my childhood memories, and what I've learned about children from those memorable moments.

My earliest memory is of standing alone in my cot crying, and nobody coming to me. I can't have been more than a year old; the room I remember was in our old garage, where we lived while the house was being built, and I know we moved into the main house shortly after that. It was dark, and I was frightened.  I couldn't understand why nobody came. It's a fragmentary memory- I still have no idea why I was left alone at night; I never asked. But I still remember the fear and anxiety.

Tell your very small children what's happening, even if you think they're too young to understand.  You just never know.

I remember a birthday party where there was a red and blue metal see saw in our yard- it must have been borrowed, it wasn't part of the normal yard furniture, but such fun.  My brother and I were given a personalised plate each. Just tacky plastic BBQ plates, with coloured borders and a picture on them.   Nothing special. We used them for years. I would have been about 3 or 4, I think- maybe younger.

Small things, inexpensive things, personalised things can make a permanent impression of joy. You don't need to spend a lot to make your kids feel special. Your time and personalised attention is more important than a big expensive present.

I remember climbing the walnut tree at my grandparents' house, sitting above the gate out of sight and watching what everyone else was doing.  I did a lot of thinking up there. I remember the colour of the leaves, the texture of the bark and the splaying shape of the tree. I was always happy while I was up that tree.

Let your kids loose in the garden or the park- let them get in touch with nature and leave them alone.  I don't mean so you don't know where they are; I just mean leave them to it, don't over-protect and don't butt in to their play all the time. Let them connect with their world.

I remember the torment of being left to play with strange children in a strange place, just because we were the same age.  I hated them and they hated me. We had nothing to say to each other and didn't want to do the same things.  There were no adults to adjudicate and I was bullied mercilessly.

Age is not always a great guide to successful peer relationships.  Know your child, and don't leave them with inappropriate people without adult support- even if those people are other children. Children can be relentlessly cruel to strangers.

I remember cutting just about every flower in our garden, including branches of blossom from the fruit trees, and putting them all in glass jars on my great-grandmother's dressing table, which had side mirrors and bevelled edges on the glass.  It was a sunny afternoon and the sun was streaming through my window; the room was full of flowers and rainbows, and every time I look at my dressing table I think of that afternoon with enormous joy.  Everything seemed possible that day. When my mother saw what I'd done she just smiled.

Don't sweat the small stuff and be a killjoy when your child is going a bit over the top and enjoying themselves.  They may be creating a precious magic moment for themselves.

So- what do you remember?  And what can you learn from it?

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