Smelling a Memory

Children connect memories through smells.  Actually, we all do, and at any age, but I think that it is particularly significant with children.  One whiff of a new shower curtain can bring me back to the smell of a new baby doll at Christmas.  My son smiles at the smell of plastic arm-floaties because it reminds him of swimming on hot summer days.  The scent of the perfume, Charlie, will cause my husband to look up and expect to see his mother.  Even newborns are guided to their mother’s scent from birth.

There are scientific reasons for why the pathways, thalamus, and the olfactory bulb affect memories.  But most important, is how we use smells to build lasting, positive impressions for our children.  Even seemingly unpleasant smells can trigger positive memories.  For instance, I love the smell of a hair permanent because I associate it with a positive experience in my youth.  My horse-training daughter smiles when she smells manure in a hay-ridden horse stall.  Many men would gladly wear cologne labeled ode de gunpowder or fireworks!  Here are a few memory-maker ideas:

  • Use simmer pots or the stove to heat spices or essential oils to connect aromas to events and holidays
  • Purposefully smell Play-doh, and crayons when you play with your children
  • See if they can guess “what’s cooking”
  • Draw attention to pleasant scents such as fresh laundry, a new book, and the interior of a new car
  • Play “guess the scent” with a blindfold and assorted items: perfume, soap, toothpaste, etc.
  • Let one child pick out a scented candle during special occasions

A rose by any other name… would still smell like a flower!

Vicki and her husband Terry are the parents of eight children and were named Colorado Parents of the Year and Family of the Year, 2001.  Vicki is the author of two books, many articles, former talk show host, and has appeared on numerous television and radio programs.  To get your parenting questions answered, write to Vicki at

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