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Astounding Role of Memory in Childhood Phobias

by Dhanya Nair 02 Aug 2022 0 Comments

                      Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

           "Memories of childhood were the dreams that stayed with you after you woke." - Julian Barnes

There are different takes on whether remembering everything is a boon or a curse. For some, remembering every detail of what they wore on their fifth birthday may bring back fond memories, and for others, the embarrassment of remembering how they peed in class can be horrific.

If you go back to your childhood, there are high chance that things you feel intensely about are always remembered. They are astoundingly etched in your memory like they happened yesterday.

You can remember the way you were feeling, the smell of the surrounding, the people around you, and the time of the day.

So, when it comes to our children and their behaviors, memory plays a prime role, especially in fears and phobias.

You may find that one of your children is reluctant to do anything without asking you, even if it seems too mundane, whereas the other may do as he pleases, leaving you curious as to how children from the same womb are so different! 

It’s not an overstatement, to say the least, that the answer will blow your mind.

And the answer to that may be Memory! 

What causes Fears and Phobias in Children?

How the parents, society, or peers of the child, respond in particular situations defines how they interpret similar situations in the future.

Suppose a child had a bad accident when crossing the road and forgets about it as the days pass.

Next time when he is about to cross the road his heartbeat will be up, or he may even refuse to cross it without you, and though he may deny having any fears around crossing the road, he may be unable to articulate why he is unable to do it.

This type of behavior comes because of memories deeply rooted in the subconscious of the child.

This type of memory where the child unconsciously does a certain thing in a particular way is based on that long-forgotten memory that influences his behavior.

I remember going to the grocery store and failing to calculate how much balance I should get back. That was enough for me to never go back to buy anything alone. 

Next time, whenever I was asked to go grocery shopping alone, I always dogged it.

Of Course, my parents were not psychologists to understand the real reason for doing so, but it remained with me for a long time. Eventually, I got out of it but still, it made me nervous.

Here is where implicit memory comes into play.

Implicit Memory is something you are doing ‘now’ but which will be ‘remembered later when you are doing something similar, though you may not know that you are ‘remembering’.

Memory is how we “interconnect” things and there are neurons involved.

When we look back at some mythological references to implicit memory, we may think about Abhimanyu from Mahabharata, who according to folklore, heard the whole method of making ‘The Chakravyuh” while still in his Mothers womb.

It’s how we unknowingly sing songs that were long forgotten.

Though this may seem far-fetched for some, a study conducted in 1988 suggested that newborns recognize the theme song from their mother's favorite opera. And there is innumerable research to affirm that talking to a child who is still in the womb does affect the child’s behavior outside.

But that makes for a different article! You can read more about it here.

How do we avoid or overcome such a situation, especially if it has been traumatic for your child?

  • When your child is behaving contrary to his usual self then you can dig deeper.
  • You can make her aware of this subconscious memory by making her aware of incidents that spark happiness and incidents which bring sadness.

Example: When you say 'rain' she may immediately remember french fries. Make her aware of how she is ‘feeling and suppose when you say cycle she may become sad remembering an accident. So making her aware of how her brain tells her that something makes her happy and something else makes her sad.

  • Tell her to converse with her brain and take control of the situation. For example, She can start like” O.K brainy I know you are protecting me but I think next time I will ride the bicycle slowly and mommy will be there to hold me, is it okay brainy?
  • Such a type of self-conversation will help the child to heal faster and will never let the child into a self-blame game.
  • Tell her to use some quick talk bits like ”Come on brainy you know it won’t happen again”
  • Or magic words like “ Shakalaka boom boom” to give the child’s brain a cue that things are afresh now and they don’t need to hold onto the experience.

How can Parents Help the Child:

  • The parent needs to realize the gravity of the situation and actually ‘listen’ to the child.
  • Don’t push aside any fear of the child, as a mere way to escape doing something.
  • The main part of behavior development starts with the parents' approach. Don’t judge the child or make fun of her situation.
  • Play with them with toys such as learning and educational toys, backyard toys, some outdoor plays, etc. They will feel confident about themselves.
  • Avoid criticizing the child in public and attend to their queries and treat them as you would treat any other individual.
  • Try to bring opportunities wherein they can get rid of their fears gradually and slowly. Don’t try to rush them into doing something.


Though there may be multiple reasons for phobias, we as parents must engage them in healthy conversations and make them aware of how the brain works.





 Dhanya calls herself an impatient inquisitive seeker. She is an   engineer mom who has learned motherhood on the job and   implemented techniques by reading innumerable books and   through research.

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