Our identity is shaped by our memories, and our strongest memories are based on the stories we repeatedly tell (or are told!)
As someone recording, reporting and retelling your tots early memories you are actively shaping their sense of identity. Now that’s a big responsibility!
While anything can form the basis for a memory (a smell, taste, sound etc) a photograph is one of the most common intentional prompts for memory.
Even as adults we look back at photos that we have seen regularly and feel as though we can remember the moment it was taken. In reality we’re often remembering part of the original moment, part of the stories we were told when reviewing the photo, and part of the stories we told ourselves about that moment. Over time they combine into one memory that is slightly different from the actual moment (this is why siblings can often have different associations with one photo etc). Memories are unlikely to be completely shifted or false, but they are not exact records that replay in our minds (particularly memories of the very early years), they are mounded by the way they are presented as we recall them.
When I look back at my own past I recall a confident outgoing child, smiling and pulling silly faces in the photos, dressing up and playing in the mud. Later in life (simply because I believed I was innately a confident person) I approached situations with more confidence. Thus I repeatedly practiced being a confident leader as I grew, and as I did so – those clever neurons wired up my in my brain, I literally ‘become what I practiced’ (to get a preview of how you become what you do this video of Amy Cuddy is a great start.)
I honestly thought of myself as extrovert until I hit my adult years and realized I’m actually an introvert who has good strategies to function as a extrovert when needed. (All my innate traits are introverted, but I feel comfortable as a leader in a large and/or social situation.)
My parents had not ‘strategically altered’ my self perception, but the stories I heard of my childhood were of a fun confident child who was ready to take the world by storm. This of course was a true part of me, but other parts of me was a child who was awkward, I hid behind my parents legs, I blundered through social situation… My parents just focused their attention on the times when I faced my fears and this is what became a part of my remembered identity: a confident outgoing child.
Coming from a media background I am very conscious of how I am shaping my own children’s self perception in the stories I tell, the photos I take, the way I ‘report’ on their young lives.
This doesn’t mean that I want to gloss over the less ‘perfect’ moments in our life (as no one would be able to live up to a self perception of being perfect anyway!) but it means I actively try not to emphasis – when my child is shy, for example – even if it is something I feel the need to talk about.
I’m sure all parents are familiar with the friendly stranger who talks to your child at the shops. Only to have the child behave in a less that social response. It is an automatic response for me to explain that my little girl is ‘just a little shy today.’ Like so many other parents I simply want to explain that she is not intentionally being rude, however this repeated confirmation that she is ‘shy’ actually compounds the problem of her believing she is shy. My occasionally shy 4yo then interprets this identity and acts shy in more situations, people then interact with her differently because she behaves shy, and the cycle continues. My stories are effecting her self perception in an obvious way in the short term.
The long term stories that we tell of our children (by the family snaps we take, by the narratives we tell and by the moments we choose to reminisce) will shape their perception of their own personal history until the point when they begin to consciously record their own histories (and believe me, this little generation will record their own histories in ways beyond our imagination!)