Stranger anxiety is a form of distress or fear of people with whom a child is not familiar. An infant learns to identify the parents and can notice the difference amongst other people at around fourth month. They undergo a period of fear and discomfort when they meet strangers.
The child may burst into tears or screech when he comes in an eye contact with a stranger. This stranger anxiety is a normal part of a child’s cognitive development and an indicator of mental development. It starts when the child is four or eight months and lasts till the child’s second year. These responses arise when the baby has reached a stage of mental development where he/she can differentiate the caretakers from other people and has a strong predilection for acquainted faces.
Here are few tips on how to handle stranger anxiety:
• Look at signs of anxiety
Study your child and know them better. Every child is different and so is their response. Some might feel shy and hide behind parents and some might cry and yell when the strangers try to have an eye contact. This is a sign and that’s when you need to act immediately. Infants might react vigorously to strangers if approached suddenly. The child may be particularly upset around who look different to them, like men who have beard or people who wear glasses.These observations can be helpful when you want your child to meet people, as you will know the trigger points beforehand.
• Prepare guests before meeting the baby
Stranger anxiety is just a phase and very common amongst young children. Don’t be ashamed of it and feel low that your child is not a social baby. Let your family and friends know that your little one shows distress around strangers and might need some time to warm up. That can take days, weeks or months. Request them to give enough personal space to your baby and not to rush their introduction.
• Create a trusted environment
As parents, it is very important to respect baby’s personal space. When guests visit, it can get overwhelming for both the parents and guests as they are meeting a little bundle of joy. This cannot be perceived by the child, all they know is that the other person is not the caregiver but a stranger. It is the responsibility of the parents to create a trusted environment. When you force a child to communicate to a stranger against their will it creates a very bad impression and they will be emotionally hurt. They will have no clue about whom to trust.
• Introduce new people in a familiar environment
To start off with a healthy introduction always invite people to your house to meet the child so that your baby is in a comfortable and familiar environment. If you are outside, always hold your baby when a stranger comes to meet and do not hand over the baby immediately. When the caregiver is around, let the stranger approach the baby by talking softly and offering a favourite toy or by singing their favourite rhyme. Sometimes this reduces distress and the baby might react positively.
• Soothe your baby’s fear by taking it slow and building a safe relationship
Lastly, babies are very delicate and it takes a lot of time for them to get accustomed to every new change. Soothe your child’s fear by taking things slow and build a safe relationship. Try to attend family gatherings and outings, so that eventually the stranger anxiety diminishes. Never force them to sit or talk to a stranger if they don’t want to, it’s an unwise thing to do. Eventually, they outgrow the fear and become comfortable with strangers.
How did you child overcome stranger anxiety? Did you provide enough time for them to cope up?
Let me know in the comments section below.
Until next time…