I was interviewed recently by an Israeli journalist on the topic of childhood memories. Karen Tsuriel’s article is reprinted here, in part, with permission:
In a conversation from her home in Los Angeles, Dr. Karina Wood said that “most things children remember in their adulthood are not extraordinary events, but mostly the daily simple things that involved love exchanges.”
“For me, it’s the memory of my mother teaching me to grow tomatoes, when I was a child. We turned over the soil together, planted and watered the seeds. She taught me about nature, we laughed together, enjoyed that moment. It was a secret moment, intimate and dear between us — one that has been engraved within me as a strong memory, with deep value.
“Events like these are small seeds that deeply affect the way in which a person assembles the mosaic of life.”
Interviewer: “So, it’s not the big expensive gifts that necessarily remain in the memory of our children.”
Dr. Wood: “No, not at all. It’s the small details that create the critical moments in children’s lives. We should not dismiss their importance. It’s not about money.
“Playing checkers, building Lego together, planting vegetables in the back yard, (like my mother did with me), going out for walks, or playing with a ball. These childhood memories are the most valued over the years.
“In the end, as a person looks back on his life, the way he was loved is more important than anything else.
“I treat people who were not loved. Who were not shown love in the way that they needed it. This left them with a very big empty space in their lives.”
Dr. Wood explains that even those “mall scenes” that every parent knows — when refusal to buy a colorful toy leads to a child’s burst of crying, screams and tantrums — will not leave their mark in the child’s memory.
It is the parent who remembers these events, more than the child.
“Children get into angry outbursts and tantrums because they’re testing parents’ limits,” Dr. Wood said. “In these situations, the parent needs to tell his child: ‘I love you, I understand your frustration, but I cannot buy you this toy.’
“As long as the parent is able to soothe the child’s feelings and doesn’t ignore them, that’s the best he can do. I don’t think that the child will remember this, and if something is remembered, it will be the parent’s caring and loving response.
“He might remember this event negatively, if the parent criticized him, telling him: ‘You are selfish.” Or if the parent shamed the child as being bad for wanting that toy. Children who were humiliated by their parents and were told they were bad, remember that. …
“There are many people who remember how scared they were their first day at school, and their parents gave them a hand, escorted them into the school, told them it was OK to be afraid.
“In other cases, the child remembers through life that the parent was not attentive to him emotionally, and that memory — of having not received a response — remains very painful.”
Read a translated version of the childhood memories article in the Israeli newspaper Calcalist.