6 Ways to Boost Your Toddler's Memory

Because helping toddler's memory will help with basically everything else.
Aug 2017
toddler looking at whiteboard with alphabet magnets
Photo: Shutterstock

Fatherly is a publication for modern fathers looking to make the best of a good situation.

Remembering things isn’t easy. Even you have trouble keeping track of all the things you should. Your head is just filled with so much crap, like what’s going on at work, what’s happening with friends and family, what you have to pick up from the grocery store, and…something else?

It’s okay, toddlers can’t remember crap either, but that’s mostly because they’re new people trying to figure out the world. As an adult, you’ve got to give them a hand. Here are some things to remember (written down so you’ll never forget).

Types of Memory

It’s time to get a little psychological. The human brain is capable of both short and long term memory. There are two main types of long-term memory that you want to develop in your kid. They serve two distinct functions in everyday life.

1. Implicit memories. These are the ones that you don’t try to recall. They pop up when you want them (or not. Back off, “Moves Like Jagger”). These are the memories that allow you to do stuff like ride a bike even if it’s been years since the last time you got on a Huffy.

2. Explicit memories. These are only slightly related to recalling that 3-way you had in college. These are memories you have to consciously recall. Things like phone numbers or that amazing chili recipe you bring out once a year (before you remember that the day after is why you don’t make it all the time).

Your toddler is working on both these types of memories. Stuff like the ABC song will eventually become implicit. But for now, it’ll take some drilling for them to move important facts like “the toilet is not for recreation” from short term memory to explicit long-term memory.

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Memory Helpers

These are tasks to help improve your kid’s memories. You’ve probably used some of these techniques for yourself somewhere in the past. But your toddler is just relying on experience — and your mad face — right now. So it might be time to dig deep and start actively building their memory.

Repeat and repeat

You’re already repeating yourself and feel like a broken record. This is basically a reminder to just suck it up. It’s an important part of memory building. It’s an important part of memory building … It’s an important part of … you get the idea.

Pro-tip: When you do repeat, keep it short and sweet. You don’t need to dadsplain it.


If you really want your toddler to remember which bins the cars go in, do something like make a fart noise every time the get it right. Soon they’ll remember that the cars go in the most hilarious bin. Or maybe you just ate your amazing chili.

Let them do it

Encourage your kid to do whatever task you need them to remember on their own. Do this often. The body loves this kind of stuff. It’s a sure path towards implicit memories.

Turn it into a song

There’s a reason you’re walking around the house singing to yourself, “If you have to go potty, stop and go right away.“ That’s because the geniuses who created Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood know that songs get stuck in your think-box. There’s that implicit memory again. Leverage this trait by making the stuff you want your kid to remember into a song. Make the tune simple (you’re not in Rush) and add your kids name for bonus points.

Praise 'em

A holler might scare them away from something for awhile, but praise can go a long way to getting something lodged in the long term memory. If you happen to see your kid doing what you want them to, do not hesitate to tell little what’s-their-name all about it.

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