Newborns are often happy to be passed from mom and dad to another person’s arms without fuss, long as they’re warm, full, and comfy. But as your baby gets older, it’s not uncommon for him to take a pass on being passed to unfamiliar people. It may come as a surprise as to why your once social baby is now anti-social. But it’s completely normal for babies and toddlers to develop stranger anxiety.
Your baby is a tad older and wiser and has clued into the fact that his caregivers and parents are the most important people in his life. So, that means everyone else can take a back seat, even her auntie, who she once adored. And obviously, you need a break from holding your baby in your arms all the time. So, it can be frustrating when your formerly easygoing newborn turns into a clingy, sobbing mess when she meets an unfamiliar face. Here’s everything you need to know about stranger anxiety, including how to deal with it.
What Is Stranger Anxiety?
According to What to Expect, stranger anxiety is when babies experience distress from an unfamiliar person approaching or trying to hold them. It is a perfectly normal development stage that often starts at around six to eight months, peaks between twelve and fifteen months, and then gradually reduces as your toddler continues to grow and develop.
Stranger anxiety development coincides with your little one’s growing sense of organization and order in the world. Around that time when stranger anxiety starts, your child notices that the relationship he has with the people he spends the most time with (often a parent or caregiver) is different from that he has with strangers and other people he doesn’t know. And as he realizes this, he prefers the familiar and gets distressed around the unfamiliar.
How Stranger Anxiety Develops
Here’s how stranger anxiety starts and progresses:
- 6 months– Baby starts to know whether someone is a stranger.
- 9 months– Baby may be scared of strangers or clingy with parents or caregivers. Stranger anxiety typically starts at around this age, though how long it lasts and how upset your child gets can differ greatly. Your child is getting smarter by the minute, so at this stage, she has started to understand object permanence and now understands that her caregivers are very important in her life.
- 12-24 months– Your toddler views anyone other than his parents as scary or a threat, even though that someone is his (previously) favorite grandpa or auntie.
- Past 24 months: Stranger anxiety might continue in some form until your baby is about two years old, though some kids outgrow it sooner.
It is important to note that not all kids experience stranger anxiety, even though it’s a normal developmental stage. Still, stranger anxiety is a sign of a healthy bond with your child, but it should resolve by itself with time.
Stranger Anxiety vs. Separation Anxiety
According To healthline, While stranger and separation anxiety often start to develop around the same time, they are different developmental milestones. Stranger anxiety is identical to separation anxiety in the sense that when your toddler suddenly notices she’s separated from her parents or caregivers, she’ll react the same way, that is, cry and become fussy.
However, they differ in that stranger anxiety is when a baby is distressed about meeting or being left in the presence of unfamiliar people, while separation anxiety is when a baby is distressed around being left solo or separated from a primary caregiver or parent.
If your baby is distressed when left with a regular caregiver or familiar relative, she’s likely experiencing separation anxiety. If she is distressed because an unfamiliar person has approached or when left with a new caregiver, she’s likely experiencing stranger anxiety.
How To Help Babies & Toddlers Deal With Stranger Anxiety
As with many emotional developmental stages in kids, patience can go a long way. You can’t fast-forward through this phase or wave a magic wand to end it, but you can try these approaches instead:
- Wait it out– Sounds easier said than done, but you’re going to have to do just that. Sit tight and take things slow. Kids are different. For some, it will be over in no time, while for others, it will linger for months. Eventually, your baby will come to terms with the fact that she doesn’t have to choose between you and others, and her suspicion of unfamiliar people will pass.
- Help your baby feel comfortable around strangers– Raising Children advises against dismissing or ignoring her fear of strangers, as this will only worsen the fear. Also, reassure your child that everything will be fine and hold her hand and let her sit on your lap when she interacts with new people. If possible, introduce strangers at home first because that is where she feels comfortable. Also, remain calm when meeting strangers as she can sense your body language, and carry her comfort item with you when you’re going to spend time with strangers.
- Frequently introduce baby to new faces at a young age– Wear him facing outward in your carrier, letting him see new and unfamiliar faces and grow accustomed to them, and model warm, comfortable interactions with them. Also, let others hold, play with, and care for your baby long as you’re okay with it.
- Give your loved ones a heads up– Let your close friends and family know that your baby has been experiencing stranger anxiety to help prevent any hurt feelings. Inform them it’s not personal — your baby is going through a phase and needs some time to warm up. You can even give pointers on how they can win her over, like talking quietly or enticing her with a toy, instead of picking her right away.
Sources: Healthline, Raising Children, What to Expect
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