“Object permanence” is the understanding that objects and people continue to exist when they are out of sight. This new skill plays a vital role in memory development and language acquisition as well as enhancing pretend play and exploration.
What is object permanence and when does it occur?
According to Jean Piaget, a pioneer psychologist in child development, “object permanence” is one of the most important milestones in the child’s first two years of life. “Object permanence” is the understanding that the objects or people continue to exist when they are no longer in sight. A child that lacks this understanding will act like the object has just completely disappeared when they are out of sight. Once the child starts demonstrating object permanence, “out of sight out of mind” is no longer valid for them, which leads them to actively search for the unseen object or person. Piaget’s study concluded that children who are younger than 8 months of age do not have this mental skill yet. However, most recent research show that infants who are between four to seven months of age begin to understand object permanence. Please note that this milestone takes time, it doesn’t occur over a night.
Why is it important?
This new skill forms the basis for future language acquisition and memory development. It is also essential for pretend play and exploration, which drives children to experience the world first hand and enhance their imagination skills. Besides, this ability indicates that the development of mental representation is on track and it will have a role in the child’s future emotional development, including developing attachments.
How can I support this new skill?
- Playing some basic games such as “classic peekaboo” or “hide and find objects” will help your little one to understand the concept of object permanence better.
- Try to diverse your games by using different hiding tactics; cover an item with a blanket or palm it etc.
- Furthermore, when your baby gets a little older, simply playing “hide and seek” will also be helpful to enhance this skill.
- “Pop up” and “lift the flap” books are also good for engaging infants to look for the hidden items and exercising this new ability.
What is separation anxiety and how is it related with object permanence?
Separation anxiety emerges as a result of this newly acquired skill. Before that, your little one was able to cope with your absence simply because they would think that you have just disappeared. As your baby masters this new skill, they begin to miss you when you’re gone. Since the “time” concept has not yet developed, they would just want you right back at that moment.
Through time, experience and a goodbye routine, your baby will cry less when you are away and eventually learn that you will always be back. Like every other challenge you have faced so far, the separation anxiety is also temporary. Be patient and try to make the most out of it with your little one.
- Childress, Dana, PhD. “Peek-A-Boo! – Strategies to Teach Object Permanence.” Early Intervention Strategies for Success, 25 June 2020, www.veipd.org/earlyintervention/2013/03/21/peek-a-boo-strategies-to-teach-object-permanence.
- “Cognitive Development: 4 to 7 Months.” HealthyChildren.Org, 2009, www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/Pages/Cognitive-Development-4-to-7-Months.aspx.
- Dean, Jeremy. “Object Permanence: Piaget’s Theory, Age It Emerges, Examples.” PsyBlog, 1 Oct. 2021, www.spring.org.uk/2021/07/object-permanence.php.
- “How Infants Know That Unseen Objects Continue to Exist.” Verywell Mind, 19 Apr. 2021, www.verywellmind.com/what-is-object-permanence-2795405.
- “Learning, Play, and Your 4- to 7-Month-Old (for Parents) - Nemours.” Nemours Children’s Health System, 2019, kidshealth.org/Nemours/en/parents/learn47m.html.
- Linda, Rodgers. “When and How Babies Learn About Object Permanence.” What to Expect, 22 Oct. 2021, www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/playtime/object-permanence-in-babies.
- Mcleod, Saul. “Object Permanence | Simply Psychology.” SimplyPsychology, 2018, www.simplypsychology.org/Object-Permanence.html.
- “Object Permanence.” American Psychological Association, https://dictionary.apa.org/object-permanence.
- Raypole, Crystal. “All About Object Permanence and Your Baby.” Healthline, 30 July 2019, www.healthline.com/health/parenting/object-permanence.
- WebMD Editorial Contributors. “What Age Do Babies Have Object Permanence?” WebMD, 10 Mar. 2021, www.webmd.com/baby/what-age-do-babies-have-object-permanence#1.
- “What Is the Sensorimotor Stage of Cognitive Development?” Verywell Mind, 29 Oct. 2019, www.verywellmind.com/sensorimotor-stage-of-cognitive-development-2795462.