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Babies change so much and so quickly that it can be difficult to keep up! If you have a young baby, you may be wondering when your baby will be able to play, recognize when you leave the room, or have a favorite toy.
Before any of these things happen, your baby will need to develop some sense of object permanence.
This means that your baby will need to see an object and remember that the object exists, even if it’s hidden from view or removed.
Once your older baby begins developing object permanence, your baby will be ready for more interactive play.
Developing Your Baby's Object Permanence
To play peekaboo, hold both of your hands over your face so that the palms are facing you and your fingers cover your eyes.
Hold your hands in place for a few seconds then remove your hands and say, “Peekaboo!” Most young babies who haven’t developed object permanence will laugh or smile to see you disappear and reappear.
Babies who have developed object permanence will see peekaboo as more of a game so you can mix it up a little.
Try covering your face and then popping out from a side of your hands instead of just removing both of your hands.
Play hide and seek.
Hide and seek works well with an older baby who’s beginning to understand that objects can still exist even if they’re in different places.
To play, show your baby an object and hide it.
Ask your baby where the toy is. You may even lift up cushions or blankets that aren’t covering the toy to get your baby started.
Ensure that you’re naming objects while you play hide and seek so your baby can begin to put names with items.
For example, say, “Good! You found the ball!”
Give your baby containers to play with
Offer your baby a variety of containers in different sizes.
At first, let your baby experiment with stacking, sorting and feeling the containers.
Then, put a few items in the containers for your baby to explore.
Your baby might like taking things out, putting them back in or just shaking the containers.
Never give a baby small items even if you’re placing them in containers.
These could become choking hazards.
Talk to your baby.
Help your baby learn about objects and develop a good memory by simply talking.
Be in the habit of saying what something is when you hand it to the baby.
Tell your baby what you’re doing even if you’re preparing a meal or washing dishes.
You should also talk to your baby about what your baby is doing too.
Don’t forget to talk to your baby when you’re out of the room.
Your baby will be able to hear you and will learn that you didn’t just disappear.
Instead, you’re just in the other room.
Create a basic routine.
If you can, develop a daily routine with simple activities.
This will teach your baby what to expect and help your baby to understand their environment.
For example, you might read a book to your baby after feeding and changing your baby’s diaper.
Or you might cuddle and sing to your baby before putting your baby down for bed.
Basic routines help your baby understand past and future events.
When they understand the sequence of things, they’ll also be able to better understand the permanence of objects.
Recognizing Developmental Stages
Watch your 0 to 4 month old’s reflexes.
From birth to around 4 months old, babies aren’t really aware of objects or items around them.
Instead, they recognize movements that they make.
You’ll probably see a baby kick their leg or waive their arm repeatedly.
Babies learn about how their bodies move through these movements.
You might notice your 3 or 4 month old begin to show an interest in objects.
Your baby may get excited when you show them a rattle or toy, but at this age, your baby won’t get upset if you take the object away.
See how your 4 to 7 month old reacts to an object.
Once your baby shows an interest in an object, try hiding the object partially.
Place a blanket halfway over a rattle that your baby enjoys playing with.
Between 4 and 7 months, most babies will try to find the object and will reach for it.
The baby recognizes the object exists and wants it. Object permanence is beginning to develop.
The baby may shake, kick or try to grab the object.
Babies might do this because doing this feels good or the object makes a sound that they like hearing.
Consider if your 8 to 12 month old has developed object permanence.
Most researchers agree that babies develop object permanence by around 8 months old.
This means that if you show your baby an object and hide the object, the baby will search for it because the baby remembers that the object still exists.
You could even try completely removing the object to watch your baby hunt for it.
At this age, your baby will probably come looking for you if you leave the room.
Many babies develop separation anxiety during this time.
Watch for coordination in your 12 to 18 month old.
Once your baby remembers that an object exists even when the object is removed, your baby will learn to react to changes in the object.
For example, if your baby sees you hide a toy under a cushion, but you move the toy underneath a blanket, the baby will continue to look in different places until it finds the toy.
You may even notice your baby immediately searching in places other than where you originally hid the object.
Your baby may expect the object to be in a different place.
Notice your 18 month (or older) baby develop separation anxiety
As your baby grows and develops object permanence, your baby will also realize that they exist separately from you and objects.
If your baby did not develop separation anxiety earlier on, then your baby may develop a little separation anxiety as they begin to understand that you may leave.
The baby may be able to play alone for longer periods of time or mimic fantasy play as the baby becomes more independent.