Study found that 15-year olds were more likely to tell coherent stories about life’s turning points if their mothers had taught them the new conversational skills 14 years ago.
The adolescents who had been involved with their mothers reminiscing reported less anxiety and depression than the adolescents who were spoken to as usual.
The research was published in the Journal of Personality. It is a follow up to a reminiscing program in which 115 mothers of toddlers were either assigned to a control or received training in elaborative memory for one year. Elaborative reminiscing is a way to have open and honest conversations with children about past events such as feeding ducks in the park.
Professor Elaine Reese of the Department of Psychology is the project leader. She says that adolescents whose mothers participated in earlier coaching sessions shared difficult events from their lives, such as cyber-bullying or parental divorce, and gained more insight into the impact of this experience on them.
This research was funded initially by the Marsden Fund, Royal Society Te Aparangi. It is the first to demonstrate the long-term benefits mother-child reminiscing has on adolescents’ development.
Professor Reese states that “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.”
“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.”
She hopes policymakers and parents will realize the importance of early childhood and start to have positive conversations about children.
“The ultimate goal is to encourage parents to have more sensitive and responsive conversations about events in their children’s lives.”
Claire Mitchell, a clinical psychologist and lead author of the article, says that there is a lot of evidence to suggest that well-being in adolescence can plummet dramatically.
For some people, this dip can indicate more serious mental health problems that may be very difficult to treat. It is therefore important to seek ways to prevent mental illness from developing earlier in life.
“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.
Researchers plan to continue the study and follow up with participants as they age to assess any effects of their mothers’ elaborate reminiscing.