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Memory and childhood – small is powerful

20 May 2024

We believe in the power of memory – it’s what our Make Happy Memories campaign is all about. If you’re wondering why then you’re in the right place, as Family Action’s Head of Practice Development Sue Rogers is an enthusiastic advocate for the power of positive memories. Over to you Sue!  

I love discussing memory and how it relates to Family Action’s work – this sort of thing is absolutely my bag. 

In our work in the early years, we often talk about the importance of the first 1001 days – what we call the formative days. During this time millions of neural connections are occurring each time the baby uses their senses, and science shows that it’s associations such as safety, connection and love that help positive connections develop. That means that parents and carers are literally helping their child create the neural pathway – the wiring – of the brain they’ll have for the rest of their life.  

Of course, we also have a number of 0-19 services, which is really useful as your brain changes again when you hit adolescence, you’re flooded with hormones and your pituitary gland changes– I always think of the Harry Enfield “Kevin and Perry” sketch when I think of this! That might result in different behaviours, like needing lots of attention and reassurance or taking risks, which can put pressure on the family unit. Thankfully, we’re here to provide support 

What do children remember?

What your children remember more is the feeling of being supported and nurtured, not the event.  

People tend to worry that they’re not making “big” enough memories such as holidays or magical days out with their families, particularly given how difficult the economic situation is at the moment. 

Something which I like to reassure families about, however, is that we should actually be thinking on the micro level – what your children remember more is the feeling of being supported and nurtured, not the event.  

I encourage people to get their daily DOSE. This is an acronym standing for  

  • Dopamine 
  • Oxytocin 
  • Serotonin 
  • Endorphins 

And they’re the positive chemicals that help us regulate our mood. But getting your dose doesn’t require a lot of money – they’re generated by things like sunshine, laughter, exercising and healthy food… which is why we’re encouraging families to come together for an Imperfectly Perfect Picnic, because they’re good for all of the above! 

I personally actively think about getting my daily dose, and I’ve been playing badminton recently. I’m very bad… but the point isn’t how good you are, but the achievement of getting better. Speaking of achievement is important here, as, memories are really useful for helping to deal with trying times, and not only because it helps us remember where we might have managed before. 

We pull through our memory of where people have shown us kindness, or where we’ve managed before.

Our thoughts and feelings influence the generation of positive hormones in the brain, which means we also feel better…

We pull through our memory of where people have shown us kindness, or where we’ve managed before. The chemicals change atomically and connect us to our past in the present… but what they also do is give us stability for our future. 

Memories are our toolkit

It’s amazing… we can use memories like a toolkit. Doing so changes up the chemicals that build resilience and reduces the amount of flight/flight in the brain, which is almost like a self soothing mechanism. Grief is another area where memories are vital.  

If we think about the families and young carers we support who might be grieving for a previous or different life pulling from a shared memory ignites that memory in other family members, bringing connection and generating our friend oxytocin, the love hormone. Again, doing so makes us feel safe, connected, gives us hope and allows us to achieve.  

As a sidenote, what I find fascinating working with our early years and pre school services is the shared memories we all have based on classic stories and nursery rhymes… I will share some of these with you reading this, even though we may never have met! 

Much of our work at Family Action is with people who are experiencing trauma, which can be very difficult. A lot of children who’re dealing with trauma, for example, have very high cortisol and very high negative dopamine. When this is the case, it means that our clever brains refer to past experience, and interpret everything as a threat.  

We put our shoulders up, we feel it in our tummies, our heart rate goes up, and it makes us use lots of insulin. When cortisol runs through the brain the red mist comes down and when we’re in this flight or fight state we take risks, lose our emotional intelligence and the connection between the emotional and social brain.

And for those living in trauma their brains can be permanently in this state, which is why people who’ve experienced trauma are often much more likely to get into risky situations.  

We build resilience and positive associations through experience… it’s never too early or too late to have positive memories.  

In these states we need to flush ourselves with those positive hormones, so, again, we soften and soothe ourselves. 

Sometimes it’s hard when people’s have had so many negative experiences, but the good news is that we build resilience and positive associations through experience.  

It’s scary the first time we drive a car or go to school but the next time we do it our brain pulls though our previous experiences to help soothe us and tell us it’s going to be ok. That’s the thing – everything in life is learning… we never stop learning, and we need to learn right until the end.  It’s never too early or too late to have positive memories.  


For most busy families, finding the time to come together has never been so hard. But it isn’t the amount of time you spend together or snaps for the socials that matter – it’s the memories you make together. This summer, we’re encouraging families to forget about perfection with an Imperfectly Perfect Picnic. By getting every generation together, you’ll find lots to laugh about while showing your support for families who are struggling. Download your picnic pack today. 

Sue Rogers

Head of Practice Development at Family Action