Disappearing games

These are games where things or people go out of sight, and then magically reappear. Disappearing games seem to be important for babies in learning that things or people go away but will come back.

Babies don’t understand how time and space work. So, if they see you go out of the room, they may cry, thinking you are gone forever. For them, the present is all there is. Gradually, they figure out that you will come back and peek-a-boo games help them to make this connection.

Try hiding your eyes behind your hands and saying, ‘Where’s Mummy?’ Then move your hands down and say, ‘Boo! Here I am!’ You can also do this when they are on their back, such as after a nappy change. Lift up their feet and legs to hide your face, lower them again and say, ‘Boo!’ Or drop a scarf over their head and let them pull if off. Also let them pull a scarf off your face and head, and laugh and smile as you emerge. A favourite toy can be concealed under a clean nappy, so that they look for it and find it underneath. Older brothers and sisters can play these games as their special contribution. They will often have more time and patience, and love to make the baby laugh by creating variations.

Some mothers play simple games, like taking their baby’s fist and patting it against their little nose, and saying: ‘Nose nose nose.’ Then they pat the baby’s cheek, saying: ‘Cheek cheek cheek.’ This certainly can bring out a new side of you. If you sound like a happy lunatic, you are probably getting it right. Our local plumber, Dave, was worried that his nine-month-old wouldn’t learn to crawl, so he got down on the floor and gave him lessons until he got the idea. And it worked. We’d love to have it on video!

When you change your baby’s clothes, take time to blow raspberries and hum against the skin of their tummy. Babies love it all — the closeness, the vibration and the chance to grab a handful of your hair. Tap their feet together, kiss the soles, sing a song. Enjoy yourself. Your child is a little banging, stroking, dropping, muttering, experimenting, reaching, grabbing, swallowing, tasting, sucking explorer. A genius in the making.

Babies will also play repetition games with you (whether you like it or not). They are right into cause and effect. ‘If I drop this toy over the edge of the pram, it will disappear, but make a noise, and then I will call out and you will come and it will reappear, and then I can do it all again. Whoopee!’ They squeal — you pick them up. They point to their mouth — you feed them. They reach up from their cot — you take them in your arms and hug them. They smile — people smile back.

This is the foundation of self-esteem: I can affect the world and the way it treats me.

You don’t have to respond every time; they will learn that you don’t always get what you want when you want it, but they have enough success to feel that life is pretty good and everything is under control.

Human beings learn by repeating things. Babies are self-programmed to learn, so they love repetition and familiarity, with just a bit of surprise thrown in. Watch as you start to play a game — your baby’s whole body begins to dance and sway with your voice as you repeat a familiar rhyme or sequence.

Sandy, 19 ‘The first game that I made up, which really made my baby laugh, was this one. I would lie her on the floor on her back and sit in front of her. I’d hold my hands out in front of me and say: “Tickle tickle” and I’d slowly move them closer till I got to her chest, where I’d tickle her. Now she is laughing and giggling even before I get there. So I some-times stop all of a sudden and she looks for where the tickling has gone — and I bring the hands back and she is laughing again. You just make it up as you go along and bring in changes to surprise them.’

Fathers will often play with babies in much more vigorous and adventurous ways. Take notice of the child’s reaction, not your own. Babies often love the way dads play with them.