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Why Do Babies Respond So Strongly to a Game of Peekaboo?

Peekaboo may not seem like the most exciting game for you, but once a baby discovers it, he can play it for lengthy periods of time. However, your little one doesn't just enjoy peekaboo because of the giggles. Experts say your short disappearing act and the baby's delighted response, helps the infant develop mentally and physically.

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Object Permanence

The game relates to a concept called object permanence. Melanie Potock, a pediatric speech language pathologist, describes it as the ability to remember an object or person even when it is not in sight. Object permanence typically develops around the 6-to-8 month mark. Before that, a baby may still enjoy peekaboo but think you have actually disappeared when you put your hands over your face or cover yourself with a blanket. Once object permanence develops, she enjoys it because she's waiting for you to come out of hiding.

Facial Expressions

Peekaboo is a form of reciprocal play. By 2 or 3 months, babies start to recognize and react to human emotions. You show signs of happy emotions when you remove your hands and cry "peekaboo!" Your baby then responds with a smile or a laugh less in response to the game than the way your face looks when you reappear. If you make a negative face, baby may not respond as positively.

Consistency and Contingency

The game also reinforces the cognitive skills of consistency and contingency. It's played the same way (consistency), and the baby must respond socially (contingency) for the parents to keep it going, Potock said. The consistency helps a baby make key cognitive connections. From there, the baby learns how to respond to the game to help continue the fun. He learns his part so well that he'll do that even if the other player isn't mom or dad.

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Shared Communication

In many ways, peekaboo becomes a form of conversation between you and your little one. As your baby gets older, joining in the game becomes a form of communication. "With time, babies also learn to cover and uncover the peekaboo partner’s face on their own, further developing the turn-taking behaviors that are essential to all social interactions and future learning," says Potock. The baby develops key social skills and enjoys some quality time bonding with you.

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