Have you ever heard of object permanence? Read onto find out what it is and it’s role in getting your children to have healthy sleep habits.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the Sleep Success Summit hosted online by an expert sleep doctor in America. He had many talks going on, but naturally I graduated towards the ones about children’s sleep.
It was refreshing to see that so many of the tips and approaches that the pediatric experts recommended were the same as my own, however one thing that stuck out was a new concept to me as the importance of object permanence.
In simple terms object permanence is the ability to remember objects or people when they are not present. According to various sources this skill kicks in between 4-8 months of age. It’s based on studies by Jean Piaget a Swiss psychologist who looked at the various stages of a baby’s development.
A baby starts off thinking that her world exists only of the things that she can see – for example if they drop a toy, it’s gone and they don’t care. Similarly if you put them down to sleep and leave the room they will think you have gone and have no concept that you will come back (this is a hard one to imagine, but I promise the research holds!) A slightly amusing way of explaining this comes in this video from family guy with Stewie playing peekaboo and seeing him immediately forget where is dad is.
From around 4 months, they start to become more aware of the world and where things are and that many things in fact are permanent. So where is that toy they dropped (it’s probably on the floor), where have Mum and Dad gone? When they start to try and communicate whether crying, pointing etc that things have disappeared they are demonstrating that they are discovering object permanence.
In this short video you can now see that the boy knows where to find the rattle..
So in sleep terms it is in theory easier to set up good sleep skills before object permanence kicks in. By this I mean if start off with the right approach of helping a child to learn the skills of self soothing and independant sleep, then when that reality of object permanence comes along they won’t be so conscious of your/or any sleep prop’s absence as they are already used to sleeping on their own.
On the flip side, if you have been coaxing them gently to sleep over the first few months by rocking, using a dummy, feeding a mobile etc then when they develop the awareness that it isn’t there any more then it will be come harder to remove yourself or it from the situation.
So there is the theory (backed up by many child psychologists) and it’s great advice for parents with young babies, but what about those with older ones? If you are experiencing difficulties with your child going to sleep then hopefully this helps you understand more about the situation.
Of course with all of these situations I can help and happy to chat through this and anything else sleep related. Just get in touch 07748 677908 or firstname.lastname@example.org