What is object permanence and what makes it a key milestone?

Have you ever heard the expression “out of sight, out of mind”? As adults, when we see an object is moved out of our sight, we know the object still exists, even though we can’t see, touch, or hear it. However, this is not the case for babies. During the first few months of their lives, when an object is removed from their sight, the object ceases to exist according to them! Nevertheless, around 4-7 months, your baby will begin to understand the concept of object permanence (which is a fancy way of saying that he is starting to understand that when objects are out of sight, they still exist). This is due to the fact that his hearing and vision are almost completely developed!

Why is object permanence such an important milestone?

Understanding the concept of object permanence is a major developmental milestone for your baby because it will help him understand the world and know what to expect next. This means that your baby will learn not to be frightened when he gives something up, like a toy, he can get it back. Another critical thing is that he will realize that other people exist, even when they leave! Until this point, your baby did not have the ability to keep this in his mind. He thought that when you left, you had disappeared. However, when he reaches this milestone, even though he might not be happy when you leave, he can think about you when you’re gone, and realize you will return. Over time, when you leave, it will not cause your little one as much distress.

 

How can I teach my baby about object permanence?

Babies learn through playful interaction, so you do not have to worry too much about trying to teach your baby about object permanence. The most important part of your baby’s learning experience is spending quality time with you! It is through meaningful interactions and experiences with loved and trusted caregivers that babies begin to make sense of the world.

So given that the best way to “teach” your little one about object permanence is through games, here are some ideas to get you started!

1. Peek-A-Boo

You have probably heard about this game – it is one of the all-time family favorites! Peek-a-book is a natural hit because it allows your baby to look at his favorite object – your face! Before your little one has mastered object permanence, seeing how you disappear and reappear instantly will be really fun for him!

You can also play peek-a-boo by hiding behind a blanket or towel. Hold the blanket in front of your face and call your baby’s name. As soon as he touches the blanket, drop it, and say: “You found me!”

2. Hide a Flashy Toy

First, choose a toy your baby likes and that always gets his attention. Once you have his attention, slowly hide the toy under a small blanket or towel. Make sure a small part of the toy is peeking out, in order to help your baby find it. As times goes by, make it more challenging by hiding less parts of the toy before he starts looking for it.

3. Play Hide-and-Seek

Babies recognize their parents’ voices early on – so parents can use their voices to help babies know that they are still there, even when out of sight.

 

The challenging part about developing object permanence is that when a baby realizes that his parents still exist when he can’t see them, he can get upset, understanding that they choose not to be there. This is what happens with separation anxiety. Playing these games can help your baby as he goes through this milestone. Object permanence games help babies understand that even though he can’t see mom or dad, they will come back!

  • Tip: When your baby reaches 8-9 months, playing object permanence games may help reduce separation anxiety! Playing these games, while also giving short, but tender good-byes when leaving him at the daycare or grandpa/grandma’s house, can help him understand that you will return.

The important components to be found in any object permanence game are “appearing and disappearing,” “seeking and revealing” objects. If you’d like to learn more about getting through separation anxiety in a fun way, check out this article!

 Creating daily routines and a nurturing environment provides children with a sense of stability, structure, and trust in their caregivers. Over time your baby will be better able to tolerate short-term moments of separation.

If you’d like more ideas to help your little one master object permanence, check out the following Kinedu activity!

 

Sources:

www.kidshealth.org/anxiety

www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/month-by-month

www.parentingcounts.org/object-permanence