When my youngest son was 28 months old, he hit his head on a rock and cut open his ear. He was riding on the back of my mountain bike and wearing a helmet when I dismounted and walked the bike across an area where the bike trail crossed a creek several inches deep. The creek bottom was asphalt but covered in slippery moss. When the back tire suddenly slid out, I was unable to prevent the entire bike from falling sideways. My son took a nasty fall and hit his head on a rock. Because it was a head wound, it bled a lot. He needed a plastic surgeon to stitch his ear up and to wear a large bandage around his head for a bout a week. In the end, he healed fine and we resumed our bike rides a month or so later.
The first time I took him back down the trail that led to the accident site, I could hear him start to whimper in the back. … I was testing to see if a 2-year-old can remember what happened at a specific location weeks after the event (our area is full of bike trails that all look similar and I wanted to see if he was afraid of all trails or could pick out The Spot). Sure enough, as we approached the accident site, he started to wiggle in his seat and cry. He said, “I fall” as we pulled up. Clearly he knew enough about our surroundings and the distance we had traveled from our house to know for sure that that was The Spot and not Some Other Spot.
It has been exactly a year since the accident and he loves bike rides but remains generally afraid of creek crossings. Each time I approach the water, I stop and pick up the entire bike and carry it in my arms while reassuring him that everything will be fine. This morning we was the first time since last fall that we biked past that spot. He still remembers but doesn’t whimper and cry so much anymore. Then, he continued along our way.
Psychologists have concluded that children can create conscious memories beginning at about age 2. I like that there is a small chance that the cool stuff I do with my children at an early age will be retained and –other than a few accidents along the way — be recalled with fondness. I suspect, however, that he is more likely to remember this negative traumatic event than he will remember the cool trip to the zoo or the ride on the train. Whatever the case, it always nice to see evidence that your child even at a very young age is absorbing the information he needs to survive from the world around him.