Monday, October 11, 2010

Stranger Anxiety

Okay, so we have all heard the term 'Stranger Anxiety' before. Some have thought it was someone who was anxious around strangers or babies who are afraid of any stranger they come in contact with and causes them to scream and cry. I studied this in school and have seen first hand how babies react with this, not fun to watch but it can be hilariously cute!

So, when my little girl was around 4 months of age, my mother and sister (who happen to live in the same city as me) came over for a visit and the minute they walked in and picked up my daughter, she started screaming bloody murder. I simply said that she had 'stranger anxiety now, and that it peaks around 5-9 months of age, and is completely normal', but they both said 'but we're NOT strangers!'

Ok, it is not a literal term.  Stranger Anxiety does not mean babies are afraid of 'strangers' only. To an infant, strangers are basically anyone that they don't see 24/7 on a regular daily basis. A grandmother or Aunt or Uncle is a stranger to a baby. If your child is in a daycare setting or has a nanny, or sees their grandmother every single day then they probably won't have stranger anxiety with these caregivers. But when a well-meaning grandmother or Aunt sees their favorite baby once every few days then yes, you are a stranger.

Stranger anxiety is a stage that EVERY baby goes through, much like other necessary stages all babies are going to go through like crawling, walking and teething. But in fact stranger anxiety is even more of a stage that babies go through, because not all babies are going to walk if they are disabled, but they sure as heck will have stranger anxiety. It's just their way of being out in the world and seeing things and trusting their environment because hey, being outside of the womb is hard work!

As for the best way to get through it? Probably not a good idea to hand your baby off when the 'stranger' immediately comes into the room. That will create disaster for sure.

The best thing to do is when any well meaning stranger comes in contact with your child,  you as the parent should hold your baby while in contact with the 'stranger' for the first 15 minutes or so. That way your baby can see you interacting with the stranger well and figures that this person is friendly after all. Your baby will think "hey, if my mom or dad is relaxed and happy with this person, they can't be all that bad." And then while you are having a good conversation with this person and your baby is on your lap you can then hand him/her off to the stranger and see how they react. Or basically any activity like this to where your baby can see this person is safe an approved by their parents.

It won't work perfectly but if you get the general sense of the idea that your baby is needing to trust that a person is safe, then you can probably find the best way around it. Oh, and this is different than separation anxiety- that peaks around 12-15 months of age and is a whole different thing- I'll leave that for another post.  So how about everyone else, any problems you've had with stranger anxiety? Any good tips you'd like to pass on?

I have a great stranger anxiety photo from my 6 month old meeting Santa for the first time. Classic:


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