For babies, when a parent or toy is out of sight, it’s more than just out of mind. They don’t realize that the person or thing continues to exist.
For that reason, babies need the comfort of knowing that people and items are permanent even when they can’t see them. Playing games with them to develop that knowledge gives them what’s known as object permanence.
The following game ideas can help ease separation anxiety and develop object permanence in your child.
It’s an oldie but a goodie. It’s also a great tool to teach babies that even though they can’t see you, you’re still there.
Make sure your baby is watching you. Hide your face behind your hands or a book, and after a couple of seconds, pull your hands away, and say, “Peek-a-boo, I see you!”
Eventually, you can add extra seconds to your hiding time, which will build up your baby’s confidence that you’ll be back. And soon enough, they’ll want to play too.
2. Where’s my stuffie?
Sitting or lying on the floor with your baby, pick up a teddy or other stuffed animal, and hide it under a blanket or under your shirt. Keep it there for a few seconds, then pull it out with a “Surprise!”
3. Roll it in, roll it out!
For this game, you’ll need an empty roll of toilet paper, wrapping paper, or paper towel, and a small ball. With your baby watching, take the ball and place it in one end of the empty roll. Keep the roll flat and after a few seconds, pour the ball out the other end. Besides thinking that you’re a magician, the fact that the ball disappears and reappears will be another lesson in object permanence.
4. Magic scarf
Babies will be delighted once they realize what you’ve done and will soon want to do it too. Take an empty tissue box, and with your baby watching, stuff a long colourful silky scarf or length of ribbon into the box. Count out loud to three, then reach in and slowly unfurl the fabric from the box. Your baby will will be mesmerized by the bright colours and feel comforted knowing that the fabric is reappearing.
If you want to try a twist on it, you can also develop their reaching and grabbing skills at the same time.
5. Cup trick
For this game, take one of your baby’s small toys and hide it under a small cup that your baby can lift. Ask your baby, “Where is your car?” (or whatever item you have hidden).
Leave it for a few seconds and reveal it with a “Ta-da!”
Each of the above games might cause confusion the first time you play it with your baby. But within a very short amount of time, your baby will be delighted and want to play too. They’ll also be learning to feel safe knowing that things that can’t be seen aren’t always gone.
“Teaching object permanence—through games such as peek-a-boo and hide and seek—the baby learns that the most important object, his/her parent, exists when they can’t see them,” says Sarah Liddell, a registered psychologist and professor of child development at Seneca College in Ontario.
“The memory of the parent will begin to be enough to sustain the baby through short periods—it will comfort them and they will feel safe in the memory. This is part of self-regulation, learning they can trust themselves to be okay when their parent is not immediately available.”