That's the finding of a study in the October issue of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.
Young children who have inaccurate memories about unpleasant aspects of medical procedures may be less able to cope with later painful and traumatic medical treatments, the study says. It adds that parents can help their children have more accurate recollections.
The study found that children as young as 2 years old can remember details about invasive medical procedures they had six months earlier.
When parents talked to their children about the procedure, those children were able to recall the procedure more clearly and were less likely to confuse it with other scary experiences, says researcher Karen Salmon, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
"Younger children recalled the (procedure) six months later, but their reports were less complete and accurate than those of the older children. Our findings challenge earlier views that young children tend not to recall medical events," Salmon says.
The study included 32 children between the ages of 2 and 7. They all underwent the same medical procedure, called a voiding cystourethrogram. It's an X-ray of the kidneys that many children find distressing. The children and their parents were interviewed six months after the procedure.
Children who talked with their parents about the procedure had more accurate memories of it six months later.
"Errors in children's recall of medical procedures may have negative repercussions, such as an increased risk of confusion among various medical experiences and heightened distress during subsequent medical encounters," the researchers write.
Here's information on how you can prepare and reassure your children before they have surgery.