Sharing Memories Helps Children on Path to Better Mental Health

Science News -- April 2022: According to University of Otago research, toddlers whose moms were given specific training in talking about memories grew up to be happier teenagers.

The study discovered that if their moms had been taught the new conversational strategies 14 years prior, 15-year-olds told more cohesive stories about turning times in their lives.

Toddlers whose mothers received special coaching in talking about memories grew into teenagers who experience better wellbeing, University of Otago research shows.

In comparison to teenagers in the study whose mothers conversed with their toddlers as normal, these adolescents reported fewer symptoms of despair and anxiety. 

The study, which was published in the Journal of Personality, is a follow-up on a remembering intervention in which 115 mothers of toddlers were randomly allocated to either a control group or elaborative reminiscing training for a year. Elaborative reminiscence entails having open and receptive dialogues with young children about commonplace occurrences like feeding ducks at the park.

Project lead Professor Elaine Reese, of the Department of Psychology, says adolescents whose mothers had participated in the earlier coaching sessions narrated difficult events from their lives -- such as parental divorce or cyber-bullying -- with more insight into how the experience had shaped them as people.

Adolescents whose moms had participated in the previous coaching sessions, according to project leader Professor Elaine Reese of the Department of Psychology, described painful events from their life with more understanding into how the experience had affected them as persons.

The study is the first to establish long-term advantages of mother-child reminiscing for teenage development, and it was first supported by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society Te Aprangi.

"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," Professor Reese says.

"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."

Lead author and clinical psychologist Dr Claire Mitchell says a great deal of research now shows well-being can drop dramatically in adolescence.

"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.

"As a parent of a toddler myself, I can confirm that these elaborative reminiscing techniques are enjoyable and easy to learn. 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," she says.

She hopes that parents and policymakers see the value of early childhood as the optimal time to begin having constructive dialogues with children, and that they understand how these conversations can impact children as they grow older.

"The ultimate goal is to encourage parents to have more sensitive and responsive conversations about events in their children's lives."

The researchers intend to continue the study, following up with participants in emerging adulthood to determine any ongoing effects of their mothers' elaborative reminiscing.

Story Source:

Materials provided by University of Otago. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

Claire Mitchell, Elaine Reese. Growing Memories Coaching mothers in elaborative reminiscing with toddlers benefits adolescents' turning‐point narratives and wellbeing. Journal of Personality, 2022; DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12703

Cite This Page:

University of Otago. "Sharing memories sets children on path to better well-being." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 March 2022.  .

Wnctimes by Marjorie Farrington

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