All About Object Permanence

Inside: Understand what is object permanence concept and why is it important. Get to know the relation between object permanence and separation anxiety in children. Plus activities to introduce the concept of object permanence to babies and kids.

What does object Permanence Mean?

Definition of Object Permanence – The concept of object permanence is the understanding that any object continues to exist even if it cannot be seen or is hidden.

Object Permanence may seem natural to us today, but it is not so natural for infants and even toddlers. For little babies object permanence is a concept that is learned gradually by experiencing everyday life.

For babies and infants, the naturally present thing is – “only what is present in front of their eyes at the moment”. They don’t know anything else.

The absence of an understanding of object permanence is the reason why babies show such great happiness in seeing the faces of their caregivers, especially parents. Don’t we say or feel the baby gets so happy when he/she sees me.

All about object permanence for kids

Why is Object Permanence Important?

Getting familiar with this idea of object constancy is considered one of the important milestones in a baby’s cognitive development.

The reason why object permanence is so important is our lives is because it gives us confidence and understating of the extent of our lives.

Object Permanence helps humans develop trust in things that are farther away from their eyesight.

Imagine if you couldn’t think beyond your eyesight. The person in the other room literally doesn’t exist for you, just because you can’t see him. 

This is precisely how a newborn baby thinks. For them, only the things in their eyesight exist, others just disappear – until they develop an understanding of object permanence.

Though it seems a very simple concept, giving it a deep thought may tell how significant is this in our everyday life. Erasing this one understanding out of our minds would make our daily life go haywire.

Example to understand importance of object permanence —

On one hand they have developed a happy connection with you as a parent/caregiver; and on the other hand they can’t see you, that creates a lot of anxiety for the child and so they cry for you.

Exactly why they want to be with their mothers all the time, because if they can’t see their mother, they get anxious.

So, it is highly important for a human child to develop an understanding of this concept in their early days of life, so that they can develop trust in their life, that – “mom is just away, not gone forever, and that she will come-back”.

Heck- little ones get excited when we play peek a boo with them, because for them when our face hides it’s gone and because they love us seeing our face back again makes them soo happy.

Related Read: 67 Unique Advice Pro Moms Said They Would Have Given Themselves As A New Mom!

Object Permanence in Infants

Wondering precisely when does object permanence stage develop in a child’s life? Well, the exploration of this concept happens right from the very early days of their life and significantly understood by the children as they grow. 

The ability to clearly understand the permanence of any object/person is determined by the children’s capacity to form a mental representation of the object or person that is missing from sight. 

Say, when a ball goes under the table. They need to picture that it follows a straight-line path (for example) and comes out from the other side.

For example, object permanence is demonstrated by an infant who uncovers a blanket to find his mother hiding under it, as in a simple game of peek-a-boo. At initial stages, he may panic or even cry thinking his mother disappeared. 

Peek a boo is a great example to understand how object permanence is lacking babies, and it’s also a great game to introduce object permanence to babies, it helps them understand the concept.

Slowly, he tends to comprehend that his mother is just on the other side of the blanket and he could see him soon once the blanket is gone.

This is where it all starts – the understanding of the basic concept of object permanence in infants.

object permanence in infants & toddlers

Object Permanence in Toddlers

This may seem a little bookish, but it’s important to understand the concept of object permenance in toddlers so bare with me a little here.

As per Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, a toddlers are considered to be in critical stages of transitioning from the sensorimotor stage to the preoperational stage. 

One of the critical phenomena that indicate this transition is the advanced exhibition of object permanence.

The preoperational stage is when the children start to think symbolically. This is the perfect stage of life when representational competence can be improved multi-fold. 

Object permanence in toddlers plays an important role in helping them picture the existence and the location of an object which is hidden from their vision. For instance, think about how you can perceive the existence of 4 legs for a dog even when you couldn’t see one of it in some particular angle.

Also, recent studies have shown an impressive relation between object permanence in toddlers (not infants though) and language development where the visual transfer is related to language processing. (Study Source)

Related Read: Yes Space for Babies and Toddlers.

Object Permanence vs Object Constancy

Object permanence and object constancy are two concepts very close but they have very little difference. Object constancy is basically the understaning of object permenance.

Object constancy is often used to talk about the concept of object permenance in inter pernonal relationships. While object permenance is about things.

They are very close and similar concepts and don’t need much stressing upon. So next time you have someone say their child understands permanence but not the constancy; it’s just a matter of time that the child will.

Related Read: The Best Board Books for Toddlers.

object permanence vs seperation anxiety

Separation Anxiety in Children

One significant need for an early understanding of object permanence is handling separation anxiety in children. 

Kids tend to become very anxious and out of control when parents need to leave them for work or other reasons. The main reason for it in very young children is the fear that they may be separated forever.

Children are not aware of the timeframes and the reason behind your disappearance. All they can think is the missing parent without any idea about when they wil return. 

This is where the concept of object permanence comes into a serious play. It lets the child know, be it a person or an object, out of sight doesn’t mean they don’t exist, they will come back in some time. 

Object permanence and attachment between the child and the parent has some significant connection. This idea can give them some assurance and trust that their parents will return to them no matter what.

How to reduce separation anxiety in kids — prepare them in advance, remind them everyday before daycare drop off that you are doing to work, and you shall return in sometime, and the caregiver will make sure they are safe till you return back, which won’t be long.

Object Permanence Activities

Here are a few games and activities to do with infants and toddlers to help them grasp the concept of Object Permenance sooner than later; or to use if you feel they have delayed object permenance.

Play Peek a Boo or Hide and seek with toddlers — It’s fun and a very powerful example of object permanence. You can do it differetly with babies, like hiding under blanket, going out of the room and coming back in, or simply hiding you face. Especially great before starting daycare.

Permanence box with tray and ball – This is a great toy to play with for babies, as soon as they start sitting up!

You can get this Object Permanence Box or get it on amazon by click on the image below.

Paper Cup Game for Object Permanence – Take a paper cup and a ball or pacifier and hide it under a cup, then uncover the object by picking up the cup; do that a few times to help the child understand the concept, and encourage the child to do it by themselves.

Conclusion about Object permanence —

On the whole, object permanence has a very crucial connection with human behavior than just being a Montessori activity for children. Hence, it is great to introduce your children to such ideas in the early stages of their life. This can make them familiar with it more consciously. And also increase trust in the way world functions and reduce anxiousness.

Author

Kanwal Grewal

Hi, I’m Kanwal; mom of two very kind and confident kids. I started this website because I wanted to share my knowledge on respectful parenting, and my passion for slow and intentional childhood. I specialize in dealing with difficult kids’ behavior and kids’ psychology.

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