Peek-a-boo! Where are you?
Peek-a-boo and Hide-and-Seek are classic childhood games that bring smiles, laughs and social connection, for children of all ages and their families. So just what is it about these games that make them so enticing and keep us playing them generation after generation? How can we get more of this fun into our day? This post will explore why hiding games can be so fun and will give you some ideas to get you started with creating your own games and rituals, suitable for your family.
Peek-a-boo is the baby version of hiding games. It can be played with a parent, a sibling, a friend, a Grandparent, in fact any other person who is interested in engaging with your baby. From the age of about 4 months, a baby is starting to learn about "object permanence" which is the understanding that things (and people) exist even when they can't be seen. When the person playing with the baby covers their face, they disappear for a moment, before reappearing suddenly. The baby has a moment of worry that they have been left alone, followed by a surge of feel-good brain chemicals when that face reappears, making them smile and laugh. This engages the older player, making them laugh and smile too. Everyone can feel so good, they want to play the game again...and again...and again.
Even though this is a game, it is helping the baby understand that they are separate from their parent/sibling/carer and that these people can leave, but they will also come back.
A gentle start to hiding faces is to hold your baby on your lap and use a soft, silky scarf for hiding. The scarf should ideally be see-through and easy to manipulate. If the baby is not able to remove the scarf themselves, then they could easily become overwhelmed and start to panic. Move it away yourself if they seem uncomfortable and take it at the baby's pace. As with any game, be mindful that babies need to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy themselves. If they are hungry, tired, exhausted after a big day, thirsty or experiencing any other feeling of discomfort, they might become easily overwhelmed by a game of Peek-a-boo. You can end up with a crying, distressed baby instead of a laughing one! In this situation, save the game for another time and attend to the more pressing needs of your baby.
The baby should be sitting up so that they can still easily breath, even with a scarf over their head. If they are lying down then be very careful to just swipe the scarf over the baby's face as you don't want them to become alarmed as this will not make the game fun for the baby! Lying down on the change table is a good time for the lying down version of the game. Hide behind the clean nappy and "boo". This one can be helpful if you have wriggly baby! Remember it's a fine balance at times between creating joyful laughter and overwhelming a baby, especially the younger ones so again...take it at the baby's pace.
Once kids become toddlers, you may find they naturally try to engage you in a game of peek-a-boo by hiding behind their own hands. I've seen many a Grandparent engaging with kids in this way too. A more adventurous toddler may also engage strangers in this game, which is an indication of how much joy there is to be had with social engagement!
A step up from Peek-a-boo is Hide-and-Seek, which can be enjoyed at any age and can get more and more complicated as the kids grow older and add in more complex rules.
As always with games, the kids can be having a great fun with their friends or family and be building their brain and body at the same time. They are learning about taking turns, counting, working as a team, spatial awareness, volume (do I fit in this space?) and time/timing (can I get to that spot and be still within 20 seconds?). They are using their whole body for the game. Running, climbing high or squeezing down low. It's lovely for the kids to play as a gang, but can be enormous fun when parents and carers engage and play too! (especially when they keep hiding in the same place that you have just been).
As with any game, there is always an element of danger (otherwise it wouldn't be fun!). Hiding games can be fabulous when played outside, but some ground rules may have to be established, depending on the outdoor space. Do assess whether snakes, rivers, roads or dense bush could become a problem and make a plan accordingly. It also pays to have your wits about you as the kids may well find an excellent spot to hide, one that is difficult to find them in! (If they're great at hiding and you don't want the game to go on forever, or you're worried about where they might go, then feel free to peek as you're counting!)
There are many ways to enjoy the game of hiding and seeking. Here are a few to get you on your way. Happy hiding!
- Berry picking, harvesting food from the garden or hiding painted rocks are all games where the kids are "seeking" and "finding" objects/food rather than people.
- When you're drying a child after their bath, throw in a few rounds of Peekaboo with their towel
- If you have a wriggly child who doesn't lie still for a nappy change easily, then try hiding behind a clean nappy before you put it on. This may be a game of speed peekaboo but if it works, then go with it!
- "hide" feet or legs in the sand. Build a sand car or a mermaid tail and hide those toes/legs away.
- If little legs are complaining about being tired on a bushwalk, then hide behind a tree up ahead to bring a sense of fun into the walk.
- Talk or sing your way through a game. Smaller kids may feel nervous about hiding and may enjoy the sound of a person talking as they approach. This builds anticipation and can end with whoops of joy! "Mmmm...is he behind the door?? no...(giggle, giggle, giggle)...under the bed? no...(haha)...in the cupboard? Yes!!!
- Use bird sounds when you're the hider. "Hoot hoot" can give a sound clue to your whereabouts and can help a child feel less worried that they've lost you and more excited about where you are hiding.
- A classic game that has been a favourite in my family is when the kids are on the bed during sheet changing. My kids will lie down on the clean fitted sheet while I shake the flat sheet over their bodies. They squirm and giggle and I do it a few times until it is in the right spot for tucking in. It does make bed linen changing a longer task, but it may be the only way to get a laugh out of changing sheets!
- The last idea, and my personal favourite, is hiding on the couch when Mum or Dad comes home. If you're the last adult home, get your partner or kid's carer to hide under a blanket/sheet on the couch with your kid/s and see their delight as you say something like "Mmmm...I wonder where the kids are? Perhaps I'll just relax on the couch until they come home..." before "sitting" on them. I still get a smile from memories of playing this game many, many times!
Hiding games build wonderful skills of social connection and can fill our brains with feel-good brain chemicals. There are many variations making hiding games wonderfully diverse and adaptable for a child of any age or ability. They can be a joyful experience for all members of the family at any time of the day. So what are you waiting for? Find a suitable moment and get hiding!.....then....Boo!