Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Early Childhood Narrative Development

Childhood narrative development and event descriptions seem to have a developmental progression. According to Fivush & Haden (2005) sixteen to twenty month olds participate minimally and need their parents to scaffold, structure, and verbalize the content of recollection. Twenty to thirty-six month olds provide more input to shared recollection with a parent as they respond to direct parental questions and interject and offer new ideas to enhance parental discussion on memory. According to Trabasso & Stein (1997) three year olds in describing an event commonly tend to provide names and descriptive sequences of animate and inanimate beings and states. The three year old child can initiate discussion on personally meaningful events during conversation and is able to provide even greater embellishment to parental recollection than the younger child (Fivush & Haden, 2005). Their narratives however lack coherency, temporal order, causality, outcomes, and reactions. For instance the three year old provides orienting information that helps to identify an animate object, its original location, and its new location, as well as evaluative information that identifies another animate object and where it is going and what it is doing (Fivush, Haden, & Adams, 1995). In describing similar events the four year old as a rule elaborates further than the three year old in providing descriptive sequences of states, objects, action sequences with temporal order and end states (Trabasso & Stein, 1997). In comparison to five and nine year olds four year olds’ narrative descriptions lack causal order. According to Trabasso & Stein five year olds descriptions of events are usually causally structured into episodes that are composed of settings, initiating events, reactions and internal responses like emotions and motivations, successful and failed attempts and outcomes, consequences, and reactions (Nelson & Fivush, 2004). Nine year olds provide even greater full and cohesive episodes that are embedded with goal plans and outcome failures. Their narratives are similar to mature adult narratives that provide descriptions of co-occurring independent events and/or states interconnecting central with peripheral details, temporal relationships that allow expression of sequential ordering of events in time, enabling relationships that establish the necessary preconditions for succeeding events, causal relationships linking one event to another, and antithetical relationships involving contrasting conditions (Peterson & McCabe, 1983). The developmental progression of event verbal descriptions of autobiographical memory thus seems to be characterized by increasing child’s participation in creating one’s event narrative, complexity, detail, coherency, sense of oneself in interaction and one’s internal states, temporal order, projections of outcomes, personal goals, etc. As such fully expressed autobiographical memory can be considered declarative, explicit memory for specific points in one’s history (Nelson & Fivush, 2004).


Fivush, R., & Haden, C.A. (2005). Parent-child reminiscing and the construction of a subjective self. In: B.D. Homer & C.S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.) The development of social cognition and communication (pp. 315-336). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Fivush, R., Haden, C.A., & Adams, S. (1995). Structure and coherence of preschoolers personal narratives over time: implications for childhood amnesia. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 60, 32-56.

Nelson, K., & Fivush, R. (2004). The emergence of autobiographical memory: a social cultural developmental theory. Psychological Review, 111(2), 486-511.

Peterson, C., McCabe, A. (1983). Developmental Psycholinguistics. New York: Plenum Press.

Trabasso, T., & Stein, N.L. (1997). Narrating, representing, and remembering event sequences. In: P.W. van den Broek, P.J. Bauer, & T. Bourg (Eds.), Developmental spans in event comprehension and representation (pp. 237-270). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.