Play doesn’t come naturally for all parents and after a busy day at work, or a day at home trying to keep on top of everything, it can be the last thing we feel like doing. But a child’s request to play hide and seek (even though they are truly awful at it), or playing peek-a-boo for what seems like the millionth time that day/week, is actually really good for their development and not quite as basic as it first seems.
From a psychological level, children will only ask to play hide and seek if they’re confident that they’ll be found and this ‘simple’ game, holds so much potential for both their physical and psychological development. Here’s where my psychology background geeks out, so apologies for the overly scientific approach here, but I find it interesting so hopefully some of you will too.
The developmental benefits of hide and seek begin in what could be seen as the baby version of the game: Peek-a-boo. Peek-a-boo is a great game to play with babies and small children as it stimulates their senses, strengthens visual tracking and encourages social development. Furthermore, when they reach the physical ability to begin to copy the action, it helps builds gross motor skills.
So why do babies find Peek-a-boo so much fun? Well children aren’t born with an “understanding of self”, or an understanding of “Object constancy”. The process of seperation-individuation from their mother/primary caregiver occurs over several fairly chronological developmental steps (Mahler’s theory on baby’s psychological development, 1975). Peek-a-boo provides a simple way of assisting children, in their development of these abilities and to become separate, autonomous (individual) little people.
Young children who have not yet achieved understanding of object permanence (that something still exists when out of sight) will perceive a person as completely disappearing when playing peek-a-boo. This development occurs on both a physical and psychological level, so over time they will learn that not only does Mummy still physically exist when they can’t see her, but they can also psychologically access a soothing sense/memory of her, as their emotional maturity increases. It is these emotional developments that help overcome issues such as separation anxiety.
In their journey to become emotionally secure individuals, children need to practise losing and regaining their mummy/primary care giver in a safe way, this is crucial for an understanding of self to fully develop. For very young children however, the separation should only be for a few minutes at a time, which makes these games perfect.
Once they have outgrown peek-a-boo, Hide-and-Seek provides the next level of this development. Children love chasing and hiding games and again the roots of this lie within their emotional development. To be pursed is to be loved and the suspense and thrill of hunting and being hunted in a safe way, fulfils a number of areas of children’s psychological development. It also teaches and reinforces that separations are only temporary, they experience the excitement of coming together again and learn that you will always come back.
Playing hide and seek also gives children a platform on which to be powerful and independent. It helps develop their imagination and problem solving skills, as well as teaching them about size and volume, “Can I fit in that space? Could daddy be hidden in that little box?”
It is also great for teaching children about their senses, while you may not be able to ‘see’ the person who is hiding, listen carefully and you might be able to hear them. This is especially apparent with young children, my eldest daughter used to shout from her (very good) hiding places “you won’t find me!” or giggle like crazy.
Hide and seek can also help with early mathematical skills, as you teach them that they have to count to a certain number (adjusting the number from 3-20 depending on age) before starting to look.
While these games quickly get tiresome for adults, the repetition is comforting for children and it is how children learn; play is essential for child development and children learn mostly through play. So why not go and play a quick game of hide and seek? You could always hide in the bathroom and actually get to pee in peace, or hide in the kitchen and scoff some sweets before they find you! 😉
Count to ten, ready or not, here I come!