The hidden questions of Hide and Seek

This week’s big puzzle in child psychology: when does a child learn how to play Hide and Seek properly? L likes playing Hide and Seek, but at not quite 3, she is hopeless at it. Her inability to hide ineffectively is in a sense understandable. I suspect it’s down to not yet having developed a theory of mind. I believe that studies of children have shown that it’s only at 3+ they develop the ability to realise that people don’t automatically all know the same things. So when L tells me beforehand where she’s going to hide, or ‘hides’ in a extreme obvious place, because if she can’t see me, then I can’t see her, it’s because she hasn’t yet properly understood the difference between what she knows and what I know.

What I’m less sure about is why she also finds it so hard to do the seeking bit. I can go and hide in some fairly obvious places and she still won’t find me. I suppose part of it is due to a lack of concentration/systemising tendency. She hasn’t yet worked out, for example, that if someone’s hiding upstairs, you need to look through one room at a time. Some of it may also be due to lack of experience: she doesn’t yet know the sort of places one might hide. She’s better at finding me in places where I have hidden in the past, but she’s not yet good at generalising this knowledge. She will look behind the specific door I’ve hidden behind before, but not necessarily other doors. The stranger thing, is that she doesn’t yet seem to be good at observing differences. If I hide under a duvet or behind a curtain, I may not be directly visible, but I’m still making a fairly prominent outline. But she doesn’t seem to recognise that. Is her normal observation of a room or her memory of it so limited that she can’t remember that it looked different before? I suppose I could check this by rearranging the furniture in her room and seeing if she noticed, but that seems a rather drastic experiment. Maybe I should try and find out at what stage children start to be able to do spot the difference puzzles.


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