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I was sitting on the wooden backyard swing the other evening, watching the sun slowly go down. My 21 year old daughter, home from college for the summer, slipped beside me.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hey! I didn’t see you.” I happily scooted over to make room for her on the slats. We sat closely together and quietly enjoyed the scenery and talked. As the temperature dipped I noticed she seemed chilly so I took off the scarf from my shoulders and wrapped it around her. Before even a few minutes had passed she seemed bothered.

“Mom, did you change your perfume? Is this Chanel?”

She sniffed the scarf and then me.

“This is my alternate scent,” I told her, “I haven’t switched. I just like to alternate occasionally.

“But it doesn’t smell like you,” she countered, “I hate to sound like a baby but where’s my mama?”

She laughed.

And took off the scarf and gave it back to me.

Scents are powerful memory finders. We can be walking through the grocery store, minding our own business and simply looking for organic plums and dessert for dinner when we catch a whiff of an older woman’s perfume and immediately are transported back to kindergarten, with vivid recollections about the desk we sat in, the day itself and the feelings we had. We can sniff one little sniff of food on the street, wafting from a restaurant, be reminded of a place we have left, either in time or space, and immediately become homesick. Soldiers returning from active duty can be comforted immensely simply by putting a familiar, home-cooked meal in front of them. Remembrance of smells and their related memories can even go back to infancy and perhaps even in the womb.

Which leads me to this-

What scents will your child remember? And what memories will those scents trigger? I believe that by deliberating making scent choices for our children, we can help create happier childhoods, enriched with powerful soothing smells, and help our children relax both now and in the future in this increasingly stressful culture and society. Read below for some scent suggestions to add to your child’s life on a regular basis if you have not already done so-

Ethnic food aromas from home-cooked meals passed down from generation to generation. Call your mother, mother-in-law, or if you are so fortunate, your grandmother or grandmother-in-law, to begin to do the happy task of retrieving a family heirloom recipe if you have not done so already. Then, get cooking. Even making an heirloom meal just once a week (Sunday dinner?) can have powerful effects on a child’s future memory. These scents, when accompanied by mirthful family times and conversation, and maybe followed by an enjoyable family activity such as backyard baseball or frisbee, can help form happy memories on which the child will rely and which the child will enjoy long after he becomes an adult and has a family of his own. Doing this, you are also passing down a unique family tradition, which helps the child feel secure in his roots and an established place in the world.

The smell of morning when the dew is fresh on the ground and birds burst forth with their happy chirps, announcing the beauty of another day. Pop your little ones in the stroller- who cares if they are still in their pajamas or that your hair is not perfectly brushed and styled yet? Take an early morning walk around the neighborhood and imprint this beautiful scent memory in their minds! Maybe they will grow up to love healthy runs on early mornings because of this early memory. Perhaps they will be more motivated to grow up to wake up early and get moving because that time of morning brought pleasure in their childhood. Even if those things don’t happen, I guarantee that their early morning walks will be imprinted on their minds for a lifetime and something they go back to, even if just in their minds, to refresh and relax.

The clean, fresh scent of newly laundered clothes, especially cotton sheets and towels. When you take these items from the dryer or the clothes line, toss them playfully on your children and let them romp in their clean sweetness. Have a clean washcloth fight. The scents and sounds of this will forge a permanent place in their little brains, endearing clean laundry to them permanently. It’s worth a shot to try to do this for their later lives, for order and neatness and all that, but never mind that now, it’s simply comforting and fun.

Select a gentle scent that is distinctly your own and wear it daily. Your children will remember that and associate the aroma with you for the rest of their lives. This will soothe them, even as they grow up.  It took me years to find a scent that I liked that was understated and appealing to me. Generally, perfumes give me a headache, but the one I selected I really enjoy in small quantities, and clearly my children recognize that as “mine”. If you don’t like perfume, try a powder and layer the scents on the evenings you do get to sneak away on a date with your husband. Pulse points are good places to apply the perfume- the wrists, neck, the backs of the knees, the crooks of the arm, opposite the elbow. Be understated in application. Remember, you just want them to get a wisp of a whiff.

The smell of freshly cut grass. Have those kids follow dad with their own child-sized kid mower as he mows or help you around the yard as he does so. (Be safe, of course, and never let little children too close to a lawn mower with blades moving.) The smell of freshly cut grass is a universal scent associated with childhood, and people report feeling happier and relaxed after mowing their lawns. Researchers have even discovered that a chemical released by a mown lawn makes people feel happy and relaxed, and could prevent mental decline in old age. 

The smell of the ocean. If you live near the ocean, take advantage of it! The soothing sounds of the waves are an added plus to the soothing scent of the salty air. You don’t have to swim to enjoy the benefits of God’s biggest bodies of water. Stop by for a picnic or just to daydream with your child. Let him collect shells or wiggle his toes in the sand. The multi-sensory experience will stay with him. If you do not live near the ocean, try to plan at least one vacation there during your child’s first 12 years. Many people never forget their first time seeing and smelling the sea.

Chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven Who doesn’t have a happy memory associated with baking? Whether it is with grandma or mom, baking is an intimate way for a child to bond with an adult. Make the most of this scent building memory by taking the time to bake from scratch. Let your child carefully measure out the ingredients, mix the dough, add (and taste!) the chocolate chips. The warm, homey smell emanating from the oven while the cookies bake will become locked in your child’s mind. The happy memories made will be associated by smell with you, forever in the child’s mind.

The smell of lavender . Research shows that most people find the smell of lavender especially relaxing, and that it also helps them get a good night’s sleep. Even a novice seamstress can hand sew tiny little pillows filled with dried lavender to put in a sock drawer, a ballet or soccer bag or reading corner. Other places to stash lavender scented pillows are your car or van,  a musty closet, in a wicker basket in your child’s most used bathroom. Studies show that lavender has soothing, short-term sedative effects. Other essential oils scents that have aroma-therapeutic properties include chamomile and rose, which have been shown to relieve pain, as have diluted oils of peppermint, eucalyptus and lemongrass. To get the full effect, be sure to use true essential oils, which are 100% pure.

Studies have shown that certain scents can definitely measurably relax a person. Studies have shown that memory is distinctly associated with smell. When we bring together pleasant memories with pleasant aromas, we bind the two together and enable our children to be reminded of enjoyable experiences on which they can draw comfort the rest of their lives. We set down the groundwork for helping them deal with stressful situations in the future when we provide these sense-oriented experiences now.

Don’t get all stressed out worrying about creating the scents for your children- most of these will occur naturally throughout your mother day as you go about naturally nurturing your little ones- the whiff of your peppermint gum, the scent of the outside after a rain… Being cognizant of the smells, however, can help you create a more pleasant childhood for your kids and take advantage of what nature and God offers.

Get baking. Get walking. Get cooking. Go to the ocean. Sew lavender pillows. Enjoy God’s gift of smell and help your children learn to find comfort in them too.

Which reminds me- I’m putting away my new perfume until my daughter goes back to school, which is in just a week or so. Her noticing my special perfume comforts me in this way- In order for her to have noticed my perfume, we would have had to be (quite literally) close for a long time. Her memories of my faint perfume stem from sharing the sofa for many years, snuggling as we read books and shared thoughts and dreams, of nights holding her little hand next to her bed, of rocking her as a baby.  It is comforting to me as well to know that through these sensory experiences, I have become an integral part of her mind and memory and heart.

Try deliberately making scent memories with your own children. When they grow up and move out, you will spontaneously be in their thoughts when they smell a certain smell, and you can know that you helped create for them, a relaxed and soothing future.


Basics of scent and memory here.

Read more about soothing scents here.

Relevant bible quote:

Ephesians 5:2:

“… live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…”