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Hide and Seek

Updated: Jul 5

“It is a joy to be hidden but disaster not to be found”.

Donald Winnicott


All healthy mammals play across the lifespan, yet play is not always an easy thing to master.  Within the first 6 months of life, we can see play is a prototype for human communications and companionship as the infant learns to:


·      Initiate

·      Maintain

·      Terminate

·      Avoid


The game of hide and seek connects the child and therapist to an experience of a shared ‘purpose’ alternating between being hidden and being found.  Simplistic in its form, it could be argued that this way of playing is naïve, yet consciously and unconsciously, hide and seek is a way of life for all of us.

A universal game played by children throughout the world, it covers a range of play from early peek-a-boo to more sophisticated rule bound ways to be lost and found.  Although “the words and the vocal melody of the game are different in Xhosa and Japanese, the rhythm, dynamics and shared pleasure in the inevitable outcome are fundamentally similar” MacDonald (1993).

From an attachment and relational perspective, in the brief disappearance of the caregiver, anxiety for the infant is minimal as the anticipation of the caregiver’s returning invokes a stronger feeling of delight about the positive reunion.  It is this prompt reunion that allows the infant to gradually increase their ability to separate and experience a growing sense of security both in their separateness and sense of individuality.  This is the beginning of developing a secure attachment as the infant feels worthy “to be pursued is to be loved” because “the joy of being found is the joy of being alive and feeling cared for” Vollmer (2009).

From a therapeutic perspective, hide and seek in the playroom can be considered as the child’s way of reworking previous experiences within the therapeutic relationship.  Through this game, they begin to develop and internalise a sense of safety and to regulate the stress response whilst waiting to be found.  The temporary nature of the separation and reunion allows a healthy pathway of building trust in self and trust in others that they will want to find you.  The overwhelming desire of the child is so great, that they will be creative in the hiding and give clues in the finding to be discovered.  When children have been ignored, overlooked or rejected, there can be no more joy than to feel that they matter enough to be found. 

Repeated playing of hide and seek in therapy may indicate that the child’s attachment schema is being triggered through the experience of separation and reunion as they try to find connection and comfort in the face of relationships.  Conceptualising through this lens we can see that this game offers reassurance to the child that they won’t be left hidden.  Healing occurs within the therapeutic relationship because separation is predictable and therefore exciting, not frightening.  Trust in the therapist allows the child to begin to rework their attachment schemas, as “everything is exciting yet safe in the warmth of the older, trusted player. You can take the risk of a disguise: you can almost disappear because you know definitely, that in the end, you will be found, back again, in triumph” Barritt et al., (1983).

Acknowledging that not all children are fortunate to have developed a secure attachment early in life, hide and seek may be experienced by them very differently.  Hiding may have meant safety thus being found may be full of anxiety, stress and tension.  Therefore, the child may feel “a repeated re-enactment of his attachment drama. The separation induced by the game floods him with a multi-layered desire and dread of being found” (Israelievitch, 2008).  However, the safety of the therapeutic space means that the child can initiate the game directing how and what they want.  By being in charge and taking control, the child is empowered to determine their own hiding and finding through a blending of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems without triggering protective responses.

Hide and seek applies to us as therapists too.  Sometimes we need to hide to reflect and reenergise.  It could be argued that hide and seek provides us with an opportunity to be with our thoughts, feelings and body, a private self.   And, when our time of hiding is over, we are ready to be discovered by our family, friends or colleague, someone who wants to find us.

Authors: Karen O’Neill & Tara McDonald

Published and Copyrighted by PIP Solutions: 30th June 2024

Reference List

Barritt et al, (1983) The World Through Children’s Eyes: Hide and Seek & Peekaboo,  (online) Available from: 


Israelievitch, G. (2008) The Use of Hide-and-Seek Variations in play therapy: Reflections on the hide-and-seek game in the clinical playroom, Journal of Infant, Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy, Vol. (7)


MacDonald, K. (1993) Parent-Child Play Descriptions and Implications. New York: State University of New York Press


Vollmer, S. (2009) Hide and Seek. [Online]. Available from:


Youell, B. (2008) The importance of play and playfulness. [Online]. Available from: 


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2 bình luận

Love this Tara & Karen

Phản hồi lại

Thank you Ann 🙏

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