Why bother remembering one’s childhood, anyway? It’s over, isn’t it? Some people think that because there were bad periods in their childhood, they should just forget them and keep them forgotten. Other people just don’t remember much, and don’t see why they should, as if it has no relevance to their current difficulties.
In psychotherapy, we often encourage clients to remember more about their childhood than they are aware of. Since we are shaped by our childhood experiences, if we don’t remember them we are likely to repeat them in some form, even if it is in our best interest to change or to do things differently. As for the idea that it’s best to just block out bad periods — not only does that keep us from learning from them, it also leads to blocking out the good memories along with the bad – and there are always some of each.
Below are two memory-retrieval tools that have proven useful for people in remembering childhoods that had seemed impossible to recall.
1. Drawing your childhood home.
First, draw a picture of the outside of your house or apartment building as it looked from the front. At the bottom of that picture, write out the years you lived there, and the ages you were. (Such as: 1979-85; ages 6-12). The drawing itself can be as basic, or as elaborate, as you feel like making. (Remember, this isn’t an art class, so please don’t worry about your drawing skills here).
If you moved during childhood, as many of us did, you can do this exercise for every home you can remember. It doesn’t matter if you start at the "oldest" or "youngest", start wherever it seems easiest.
Next, draw a "map", or schematic, of the layout of the inside of the home. as if you were looking down from above. This gives a location for the different rooms and how they connected to each other. Label each room with the name, or names, that it was most often called.
If there was more than one floor to the house, draw one of these maps for each floor.
Then, using a separate piece of paper for each room, draw each room (again, looking down from above), showing the main furniture and objects that were in that room as you remember it.
Write down on the paper some of the things that happened in that room. What usually went on -day after day, or week after week- in that room? What are some good memories you have from that room? What are some bad memories from that room? How do you feel about that room now?
Doing this exercise – which usually takes several sittings (don’t try to make yourself do all of it at once) – may help you remember much more than you thought you could about your childhood.
A second exercise: School memories.
Using 13 or more sheets of paper, starting with kindergarten, write each grade you attended in school, one year for each sheet, with the grade, calendar year, name of the school and your age at the time, at the top. Then write out the names of any teachers or school staff whom you remember, and any of your classmates who you recall from that year.
Do you have any memories – good or bad – from that year with those people? Writing your memories down – even if just as brief notes on the paper – frees up your brain’s active memory and makes it more likely that you will be able to remember even more.
We spend a lot of time in school in our early years, and it can be helpful to remember that part of our life as well as our home life.