Stranger anxiety in babies is a sign of healthy emotional development and attachment. Being fearful of strangers denotes that the child recognises the difference between her parents and a stranger, and naturally prefers the former.
How long does stranger anxiety in babies last?
Realising that a stranger is not her parent, the child often gets uncomfortable and distressed when held by the stranger. Fear of stranger usually happens at around the age of 9 months and can last until about 18 months. With time, babies become more and more comfortable with meeting new people and welcome them by smiling or giggling. Crying or fussing, looking fearful and hiding when held by a stranger, will decrease considerably with time, and they enjoy being held and played by others.
An indicator of your baby’s temperament
The extent of anxiety a baby goes through around a stranger often reflects the temperament of that baby. Some mellow babies will go to anybody; others, who are more discerning, become anxious in the presence of a stranger. Because babies prefer familiar adults, they do not like their caretakers to change often and usually do not entertain strangers till 1 to 1.5 years of age.
Ways to make your baby feel comfortable around a stranger
Although stranger anxiety in babies is a normal part of development, there are a few ways in which you can make your baby feel less upset around new people.
Ask your babysitter to come early :
If you are having a babysitter to look after your baby, ask her to come early a little before you leave. Spend that extra time playing together so that your baby warms up and gets comfortable with her.
Give ample chances to the stranger to become familiar:
Initially, allow the new person to interact and play with your child from a distance so that your baby gets her guards down and gets comfortable.
Acknowledge her fear:
Be patient with your child and allow her to take her own time to get used to new people. Don’t push her into uncomfortable situations which can make her sensitive towards new people and worsen her anxiety towards strangers.
Stranger anxiety in babies is not irrational and is a natural consequence of the way we all grow up as human beings.
Be with your baby when introducing a stranger:
Stay close to your child while you give her the chance to know an unfamiliar person. This will make her feel secure and create reassurance that you are not going to leave her with a stranger.
Train the stranger about the right way to approach:
Your child will be less anxious when a stranger will approach her calmly and slowly and not immediately pick her up in excitement.
Hold her close:
While introducing your toddler to a new person, it is advisable to hold her close. Be relaxed if they hide behind you and don’t drag her out to say a ‘hello’.
Be enthusiastic when introducing a new person:
Your baby reacts to your social cues when meeting new people. Hence, show positivity and let her see you being friendly with them. Moreover, ask the stranger to ease themselves up and save the hugs and kisses only when your child gets comfortable.
Let your baby take her own time
To a baby, the presence of an unknown face might make her feel that there is a danger associated with it. Children take their own sweet time to get used to the world, so, pushing them forcefully to interact and mingle with others cannot always be a good option. However, if your child’s fear is really intense and does not reduce with time, you should consider talking to a health professional, be it a paediatrician or a child psychologist. Stepping out of the comfort zone and facing the unknown requires time. Support her through the phase, and she will very soon be interacting with numerous people in multiple ways.