5 Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Memory
Every generation says that their children’s attention span is getting worse—but in our case, it might actually be true. With the deluge of fast-paced TV, as well as tablets and screens at home and in the car, children are never more than seconds away from something a lot more interesting than learning! The list below is full of real-world advice, backed up by genuine scientific sources.
The first idea is one you’ve probably heard before…
1) Use Exercise, Movement and Gesture
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but what you might not know is that it’s good for the mind.
According to a paper in Frontiers in Psychology , even basic gestures and movements can help to develop memory. That doesn’t mean doing star jumps and reciting the times tables at the same time—it means something as simple as moving your hands while you talk. So, instead of having your child read and learn by rote, encourage them to read out loud and make movements and gestures as they talk (as you naturally do when they talk). This will help them remember what they read later on.
Aside from that, actual workouts can actually help. The same source above discusses how it was shown decades ago that exercise can help people with dementia to alleviate their symptoms. That’s because it increases hippocampal volume—it actually directly affects the brain. If you didn’t know, the hippocampus is a small part of the brain that regulates memory, and in particular, long term memory.
2) Provide Real Nutrition
The positive effect of nutrition on memory (and other things besides) isn’t just an old wives’ tale. It’s real, and it’s scientifically proven.
There are a number of ways that diet and digestion link to memory. According to a paper in Nature Reviews Neuroscience  discusses how vagus nerve stimulation or VNS demonstrates the link between digestion and the brain, for example (the vagus nerve being the one in control of the digestive tract). Increases in certain gut hormones increases memory in rats, and better energy metabolism also improves cognition. That, plus the benefits of specific nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids, shows how diet can dramatically improve memory.
So, to improve your child’s memory, make sure that they have a varied diet that provides real energy, not just a sugar rush.
3) Make Sure They Rest and Sleep
Next, you have to think about how much sleep your child is getting. It’s important that they get a full night’s rest so that they can focus the next day. More sleep means more wakefulness, and more wakefulness means that they don’t get distracted as easily.
Rest is also important, and not just in the sense of sleep. Taking breaks to rest throughout the day helps you remember more. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Whenever you first learn something new, stop for a moment and rest—don’t carry on reading or learning. If you take a moment to rest, not even thinking about what you’ve learned, this actually helps you remember it later on .
In practice, this means that keeping your child’s nose to the grindstone for too long is anything but helpful! Let them learn, but then give them time to play and relax, too. It’ll be better for their memory in the long run.
4) Don’t Stress Them Out, Man!
If there’s one thing that we can all agree on, it’s that stress is a bad thing!
A paper in the journal NPJ Science of Learning , a team of scientists assessed how stress affects learning and memory. They hit on some excellent points: today’s classroom is incredibly demanding and stressful, with exams at ever-younger ages, bullying and more. At home, parents can unintentionally pile more stress on their kids by making every experience a learning experience, and not ever letting them just… Be kids.
In the course of their review, the scientists found that stress can have a deleterious effect on memories and memory formation. Adrenaline and the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, as triggered by stress, can actually help memory or hinder it in equal parts. Small stressful experiences just before or after learning can help memory formation, but continual stress over a long period of time can decrease a child’s ability to make memories in the future.
So, in practice, don’t make every single thing a learning experience. Let your child unwind sometimes. At the same time, use mini-stressors like short tests to encourage memory formation after learning.
5) Simply Practice
Last but not least, you have to become comfortable practicing focus with your child. Focus isn’t something that comes naturally; it’s something that has to be worked on like any other skill, like painting or singing. And we don’t just mean encouraging your child to practice. We mean that you, as a parent, have to be patient and forgiving with your child. Don’t guilt them into learning how to focus—guilt is the worst motivator there is. Use positive reinforcement to encourage them, and detail the benefits of learning to them.
When your child first starts learning how to focus, they won’t be very good. Their limbic system—their animal brain, the part that all animals have, and which is responsible for instant gratification—will kick in once in a while. It’s going to happen, and you have to accept that, but with time it’ll get better.
More important than anything, though, is to work on your child’s actual interests. If somebody asked you to read something you didn’t care about—an instruction manual, for example—and then remember it five days later, would you be able to? Of course you wouldn’t! Teach your child about things that interest them, and you’ll grab their attention—and improve their memory, too.