Object Permanence: I Can’t See You…But I Know You’re Still There!

Object Permanence: I Can’t See You…But I Know You’re Still There!

Did you know that young babies don’t realize that something still exists when they can’t see it? This is an obvious concept for us, but for newborns, with so little experience in the world, it makes more sense that something disappears when they can’t see it. At 6-9 months old, though, your baby is taking a big step and beginning to understand the idea of Object Permanence.

Object Permanence is the understanding that things still exist even if they can’t be physically seen or heard.1,2,3 As an early infant, she probably thought you really disappeared when you hid behind a scarf while playing “Peek-a-Boo” with her, only to react with surprise and delight when you magically reappeared. By the time she is about 8 months old,2 she will start to understand that you still exist behind the scarf, even though you’re hidden out-of-sight. She may even try to swipe at the scarf in an attempt to “find you.”5,6

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While object permanence is an exciting milestone to reach, it is also associated with your baby’s newfound separation anxiety when you leave her side to run an errand or take her to daycare. The good news is that she’ll soon learn to cope with emotional object permanence, the ability to form and maintain her bond and memory of interactions with you and other trusted caregivers.4 As she develops this ability, she’ll be better able to self-soothe herself by replacing you with a mental picture of you, cuddling transitional objects (e.g. safety blanket, favorite doll), and imitating your actions while you’re gone.4,7

Your baby will also develop the ability to remember information and recent events now. A child’s declarative memory, also known as explicit memory, involves the “learning, representation, and use of knowledge about facts (‘semantic’ knowledge) and events (‘episodic’ knowledge).”8 This memory system starts to emerge around 8-9 months when a child’s late developing neural system matures, and will continue developing rapidly during the first 2 years of life.9 As a result, your baby will have more attention and focus, acquire language skills, and build factual knowledge over time.

At this age, with a growing understanding of object permanence and a larger memory, your baby will enjoy looking for hidden objects. She will start off by finding objects that are partially hidden or recently thrown on the floor, and then eventually venture out to seek toys she saw you hide in your hand or even under a blanket. She will also start remembering and participating in activities you do together often, such as stretching out her arms wide when you ask her “How big is baby? Baby is THIS big!”1 Or she may lift her legs up as you start to change her diapers.10

By following a daily routine and doing repetitive activities together, you help build your baby’s memory skills and encourage her to participate in daily tasks and play.1 Children feel empowered when they know what is coming and how it will happen. By repeating behaviors and actions with your baby, you are helping her build brain connections that strengthen her knowledge, understanding of object permanence, and self-confidence.

Play Tips:

Do you want to know how you can support your baby’s development of Object Permanence skills at this age? It’s easy! Read on for some simple tips to incorporate into your daily play time together.

  1. Play Oyster with various small objects. Let your baby search for a small treasure hidden in the palm of your hand. Start off with the object in plain view on your palm, then close your fingers around the object to hide it. Place your hand in front of your baby and ask her to find her treasure. When she touches your hand, open your hand to expose the treat. Try using fun food pieces, such as dissolvable puffs or soft fruit pieces, so that you can reward her with a treat at the end of the game!
  2. Encourage your baby to participate in your daily routine together.1 When you follow a daily routine together, your baby will be able to develop a deeper understanding of Object Permanence. She will start to understand that events happen in sequence and things are put away in their correct spot. In due time, your baby will come to know that when you put away a favorite book, it doesn’t just disappear, but is placed back on her reading shelf. In addition, by keeping up a consistent routine, she will also learn to take part in these everyday tasks by predicting and copying your actions, making her more independent and self-sufficient over time.
  3. Repeat games and activities to reinforce learning.1 Repeating fun and simple games will help develop your baby’s memory of activities and let her guess what comes next. Games such as “How big is baby?” (hold out her arms wide and say “Baby is THIS big!”) and “Pat-a-Cake” are favorites. You can also sing simple fingerplay and action songs, like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Where is Thumbkin?” to encourage her to copy your actions during the song.

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Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Object Permanence developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) he has already mastered to date using Playful Bee’s developmental milestones tracker. It’s absolutely FREE and easy to use, just click HERE!

  • Understands that out-of-site objects still exist (object permanence).
  • Uncovers and searches for hidden objects.


1Parenting Counts. Acquires the Notion of Object Permanence. The Talaris Institute: Parenting Counts. Retrieved on March 4, 2014, from http://www.parentingcounts.org/information/timeline/acquires-the-notion-of-object-permanence-that-a-hidden-object-still-exists-even-if-one-cant-see-it-7-12-months.

2Baillargeon, R and DeVos, J. (1991). Object Permanence in Young Infants: Further EvidenceChild Development 62(6), 1227–46.

3Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.

4Hart, Susan (2006). The Impact of Attachment (Norton Series on Interpersonal Neurobiology). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

5Piaget, Jean (1983). Piaget’s Theory. In P. Mussen (Ed.), Handbook of Child Psychology, Volume 1 (4th ed.) (pp. 103-128). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

6Piaget, Jean (1952). Logic and Psychology. In Howard E. Gruber and J.. Jacques Voneche (Eds.), The Essential Piaget (pp. 445-477). New York, NY: Basic Books, Inc.

7California Department of Education (2009). California Infant/Toddler Learning and Development Foundations.

8Ullman, Michael T. (2003). Contributions of Memory Circuits to Language: The Declarative / Procedural Model. Cognition; 92, 231-70. Retrieved on March 4, 2014, from http://brainlang.georgetown.edu/pubs/ullman_cognition_04.pdf.

9Schacter, D. and Moscovitch, M. (1984). Infants, Amnesiacs, and Dissociable Memory Systems. New York, NY: Plenum.

10Florida Partnership for School Readiness (2004). Florida Birth to Three Learning and Developmental Standards.

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Education Team at Playful Bee
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