Peek-a-boo: The hidden benefits for little ones

Peek a boo

This game has many hidden benefits for little ones.

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Peek-a-boo isn't just for babies - research shows it can help develop a toddler's cognitive development. All it takes is a 'plus one' (that's you, parent!) and a willingness to have a little bit of fun.

In fact, according to Dr Kimberley O'Brien, Principal Child Psychologist at Quirky Kid Clinic, it's the perfect first learning game, hosting a mega load of positive benefits for toddler and a few surprising perks for parents and siblings, too.

This game has many hidden benefits for little ones
This game has many hidden benefits for little ones Photo: iStock

"Babies are like sponges and the best way to learn and absorb information is through fun play," explains Dr O'Brien. "Peek-a-boo is often one of the first games that babies will learn to play, and because they love repetition, they will want to play it over and over again."

But, it only has a short window. "Usually it's fun from about 6 to 12 months - then it's not that interesting to them anymore. They're easily tricked at that age – babies are genuinely surprised when a parent disappears and then reappears!"

Then, their cognitive development kicks into gear. Basically, they wise up to this babyish activity and begin to develop Object Permanence – an understanding that objects still exist even if they can't see, hear or touch them. For plus-one-year-olds, repeating the game over and over again strengthens their learning and understanding of this concept. Although this is one of the easiest of the toddler activities encouraging cognitive development, all communication begins with social interaction, so this is a great one to help toddlers grow in confidence and speech.

"As the baby matures and with cognitive development, they realise that the parent hasn't actually disappeared at all," explains Dr O'Brien. That doesn't mean the fun has to stop; but it's time to add a surprise element. Suggests Dr O'Brien: "Have mum's face disappear behind a towel, then have big brother or sister's face reappear!"

There's plenty more surprise benefits to peek-a-boo, too, as Dr O'Brien reveals.

From baby to individual

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If a toddler has been attached to mum and dad's hip from day dot, a little peek-a-boo could be just what he needs to enjoy safe 'separation' and a little space and distance, with the comforting of knowing you'll reappear in a flash. "Peek-a-boo is a playful technique to encourage independence from a primary carer," explains Dr O'Brien. "Momentary separations followed by a happy reunion also help to build trust and a solid attachment between parent and child. This can help to reduce the risk of separation anxiety as infants mature."

The parent-child connection strengthens

"In those first six months of life it's not all about play – parents are more focused on meeting the baby's needs in terms of feeding, changing, sleeping, bathing," explains Dr O'Brien. "And while they have moments of playfulness, peek-a-boo is often one of the first reciprocal games and an opportunity for parents to initiate a playful connection with their child." As the child grows older, it helps parents go from just 'serving a need' to playing a fun, interactive and reciprocal game.

Siblings can get involved

Family connections are important, and, says Dr O'Brien, as babies don't do a lot, it's good to get the whole family involved. "A baby's laughter can consolidate family connections. Play a family game of peek-a-boo, taking it in turns, so everyone feels connected and has a chance at taking the lead. When visitors come over, let them play too, so that baby can learn to connect with more than a few familiar faces. This will also help babies learn to play with people outside their immediate family - an important first step towards making new friends."

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