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Shirah Vollmer, MD
Shirah Vollmer MD

Hide and Seek

Why do we leave? Why do we want to be found?

Why do children throughout the ages love hide and seek? I propose that there are a number of reasons that both hiding and seeking are thrilling for children. First, children hide because they want to know that they can go out and explore. They want to know that they can be fine on their own. They want a sense of autonomy. However, soon after the child feels the joys of exploring, he gets lonely and so he wants to be reassured that his friend wants to find him. This is life affirming. To be pursued is to be loved. The joy of being found is the joy of being alive and feeling cared for. This is the second reason why this game is so popular.

Third, the game of hide and seek brings together children and adults into the sandbox of play. There is a shared mission to alternate exploring and being discovered. The moments of suspense, when one person looks for another adds to the tension which then leads to the excitement of coming together. Fourth, hide and seek reassures children that people in relationships can separate and they can come back together. This dance between separation and reunification is endlessly reassuring because it reminds the child that separations can be temporary and therefore sustainable. Further, it reinforces the tremendous joy in the reunion since there is always fear that coming together will not happen.

The game Peek-a-boo is a an infant version of hide and seek. In the game, the older player hides his face, pops back into the baby's view and says-to the baby's amusement-Peekaboo! I see you! Since the infant does not have object permanence, meaning that in a literal way, the infant's brain processes information such that out of sight means out of mind, when the older player covers his face, then the baby believes the player has gone away. The joy in seeing the face return comes from the relief that the separation ended. Turning the anxiety of separation into a game of joy is a form of mastery. In other words, instead of the baby crying when the adult leaves the room, the baby is now laughing because despite his fears, the adult has reappeared. Peek-a-boo is played over and over again. The repetition is comforting.

We have to cope with separations throughout life. Hide and seek gives the child practice at independence and it gives the child joy in reunification. This game helps a child conquer his fear of autonomy and separation. It is fun to master fear. A game which gives a child a platform to feel powerful endures through time.

About the Author
Shirah Vollmer, MD

Shirah Vollmer, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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