Parents who share memories with children improve their well-being, study finds

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Experts say these conversations can help kids develop a better sense of identity

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Otago explored how kids can benefit from their parents sharing memories with them.

The team explained that when parents are coached on how to discuss memories with their children, it helps them develop a better sense of identity and overall well-being as they grow and develop. 

“Our findings suggest that brief coaching sessions with parents early in children’s lives can have long-lasting benefits, both for the way adolescents process and talk about difficult life events and for their well-being,” said researcher Elaine Reese. 

“We believe parents’ elaborative reminiscing helps children develop more complete, specific, and accurate memories of their experiences, providing a richer store of memories to use when forming their identities in adolescence. Elaborative reminiscing also teaches children how to have open discussions about past feelings when they’re no longer in the heat of the moment.” 

Genuine conversations can benefit kids

For the study, the researchers evaluated the results from an ongoing trial that followed 115 mothers and their children. When the study began, the mothers were chosen to either participate in a training that taught them how to engage in elaborative reminiscing with their kids or to be in a control group with no training. The mothers underwent this training when their babies were one, and the team then tracked how this impacted their well-being 14 years later. 

The researchers learned that children of mothers who participated in the elaborative reminiscing training had marked improvements in well-being. By talking through some of the more simple memories of childhood, kids were better able to discuss some of the more difficult events they’d experienced by the time they were teenagers. 

“As a parent of a toddler myself, I can confirm that these elaborate reminiscing techniques are enjoyable and easy to learn,” said researcher Dr. Claire Mitchell. “Our study helps pave the way for future work with parents of young children to promote healthy interactions from the beginning that could have enduring benefits.” 

Talking through memories is helpful

The study found that talking through memories during childhood helped give kids a better sense of themselves during their teenage years. The researchers also found that these kids had fewer emotional difficulties and better overall well-being. 

Moving forward, the team hopes these findings spark more conversations between parents and their children and also work to improve mental health and wellness for adolescents. 

“The ultimate goal is to encourage parents to have more sensitive and responsive conversations about events in their lives,” said Dr. Mitchell. “For some young people, this dip is the beginning of more severe mental health issues that can be difficult to treat. Thus, it is important to find ways to prevent mental health difficulties earlier in life if possible.” 

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