According to occupational therapist and founder of Clamber Club, Liz Senior, object permanence is the ability to understand that people or objects exist even when they’re out of sight. This process begins at around 4 months of age and is complete at around 12 months of age.
Kids’ games to help teach your child about object permanence
In her book, Growing Up With A Smile, Liz Senior explains how hiding toys and objects around the house, where your child can easily find them, is a good way to start teaching them about object permanence. This simple activity shows your child that just because something can’t be seen immediately, doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. You can play this game from the time your child is around 7 months old.
Hide n’ seek
For older toddlers who can walk (age 12 months and over), you can play a variation of hide n’ seek where you hide a toy and ask your child to find it. Call, “You are warm” when he’s near the toy, or “You are cold” when he’s far from the toy. When he finds the toy, praise him and name the place where it was hiding.
You can also hide a toy and give different verbal cues as to its whereabouts, such as, “It’s not inside the cupboard, it’s not near the couch, it’s closer to the bed.”
The simple game of peekaboo is ideal for babies between the age of 18 and 24 months. You can either play by hiding just your face behind your hands and shouting, “Peekaboo!”, or you can hide yourself behind the door and wait a second before revealing yourself to your baby.
Susannah Steele, author of Baby Play For Every Day also suggests playing outdoor peekaboo. Next time you go for a walk with your little one, hide your face behind your hat or umbrella or hide behind a park bench or nearby tree so that she can still see your body. Then, pop your head out with a silly expression on your face as you say, “Peekaboo!”
“For a baby or toddler, these hiding games may serve as a non-threatening aid for handling separation anxiety,” says Liz.
The link between object permanence and separation anxiety
At around the 4-month mark, little ones also start to develop a sense of separation anxiety, which can peak between 8 and 10 months. When your child experiences separation anxiety, she believes that when you leave, you won’t return and she feels totally separate from you, your partner or caregiver, which can lead to anxiety and feelings of distress.
So, although your child might start to understand that you do still exist even when you’re not in the room (object permanence), she might still feel anxious or upset when you leave.
How to manage separation anxiety
In the baby and toddler years, it’s normal for children to become anxious when they’re separated from their parents, especially their main carer, explains Dr Tanya Byron, author of Your Child, Year By Year. It takes time for them to understand that you’re a separate entity from them and will come back to them.
At around 3 years of age, your child will start to feel a little more confident about being separated from you, and you may notice a little less anxiety, for example, when you leave her at play school in the morning.
TOP TIP: “If your child still struggles to separate from you, have some practise sessions starting with a short time away – 20 minutes at first, then building up each time,” explains Dr Byron. “This way he’ll grow in confidence about being apart and that you will come back for him.”
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike. Learn more about Tammy Jacks .