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

what is object permanence

Key points:

  1. Object permanence development helps babies understand the world and cope with separation.
  2. Teaching object permanence happens through playful interactions and games.
  3. Games like Peek-a-boo, hiding toys, and hide and seek can help in teaching object permanence to babies.
  4. Daily routines and a nurturing environment provide stability, structure, and trust for your baby’s development, including their understanding of object permanence.

Have you ever heard the expression “out of sight, out of mind”? As adults, when we see that an object is moved out of 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, according to them, it ceases to exist!

Nevertheless, around 4-7 months, your baby will begin to understand the concept of object permanence (which is a fancy way of saying that they’re starting to understand that when objects are out of sight, they still exist). This is because their 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 them understand the world and know what to expect next. This means that your baby will learn not to be frightened when they give something up, like a toy, because they can get it back.

Another critical thing is that babies will realize that other people exist, even when they leave! Until this point, your baby could not keep this in mind. They thought that when you left, you had disappeared. However, once they reach this milestone, even though they might not be happy when you leave, your son 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 interactions, so you do not have to worry too much about trying to teach your baby this concept. 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-boo is a natural hit because it allows your baby to look at their favorite thing –your face! Before your little one has mastered this milestone, seeing how you disappear and reappear instantly will be fun!

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 they touch 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 their attention. Once you have their attention, slowly hide the toy under a small blanket or towel. Make sure a small part of the toy is peeking out, to help your baby find it. As time goes by, make it more challenging by better hiding the toy before they start 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 they’re out of sight.

The challenging part about developing object permanence is that when a baby realizes that their parents still exist when they can’t see them, they can get upset because they understand that their parents chose not to be there. This is what happens with separation anxiety. Playing these games can help your baby as they go through this milestone. Playing will help babies understand that, even though they 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 them at daycare or grandpa/grandma’s house can help them understand that you will return.
  • The important components to be found in any of these games 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. So try these games of object permanence and help your little one learn!

If you’d like more ideas to help your little one master object permanence, check our Kinedu activities!

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