“Peek-a-boo! I see you!” It’s unclear how and when the game of peek-a-boo originated, however, it seems like caregivers (parents) have been playing it with babies since the beginning of time. Folklore tie the phrase “peek-a-boo” to have evolved from “bo peep,” the nursery rhyme where the little shepherdess lost her sheep. Nonetheless, the overall goal of the peek-a-boo interaction is to suddenly find something that has been briefly lost (out of sight), whether it is a covered toy, character in a flip book, or a smiling familiar face.
For those of us who have played peek-a-boo with a babies, their reactions can vary from encouraging giggles to perhaps cues of discomfort because we are no longer visible for a brief moment. Important cognitive and emotional development happens when playing peek-a-boo. Babies are slowly grasping the concept of object permanence. Object permanence is when babies learn that something (or someone) still exists although it is not in plain sight. Babies typically start to show signs of object permanence between 4 to 7 months.
Why is object permanence important? Object permanence is crucial when it comes to forming a secure attachment with your child. Think about the following scenario: A mother leaves the her child with a new caregiver. Her child cries and crawls toward the exit door, wanting to only be comforted by the mother. Crying, although uncomfortable to watch, is one sign that the child understands that her mother still exists and wants to be with her. She knows that mommy is on the other side of that door. When the mother returns, the child is able to calm down again. This signifies that the child is forming a secure attachment with her mother. She sees her mother as a “secure base” for comfort. This example shows that the child can recall that her mother is a real entity that has not ceased to exist, but has only “disappeared” behind that door for a moment. It’s almost like a drawn out game of peek-a-boo.
Daily sporadic games of peek-a-boo provide babies with opportunities to slowly build up to the concept of object permanence. The neat thing about peek-a-boo is that is can be played anywhere without any special materials. All parents need are their hands, a playful voice, and some imagination. A few suggestions to enhance a game of peek-a-boo include:
- Alternate phrases of “peek-a-boo” with “Where’s the baby?” “Where’s mommy?” “Where’s the kitty” “Where’s the _____?”
- Instead of covering your face, support baby’s hands to cover his/her own face
- Use a fabric (like a light blanket or scarf) to cover your face
- Slowly start to pull yourself back even further from baby as you play peek-a-boo. For example, start off face-to-face, pull back to being behind the couch, to behind the corner of the hallway, peeking over the side of the crib, etc.
- Have baby sit in your lap and use a children’s book to point out characters. “Where’s the piggy?” “There it is!”
- Have baby sit in your lap and have another adult be the peek-a-boo partner.
- Hold baby in front of a mirror to play peek-a-boo
- Make a small picture book with photos of family members and ask, “Where’s Grandma?” “There she is!”
- Take baby on an outing in a front carrier and point out items, “Where’s the blue truck?” “There it is!”
The Parenting Hub would love to hear stories of how you take playing peek-a-boo to the next level. Please send them to: firstname.lastname@example.org.