Young kids love to be held, and new mums also enjoy this feeling of cuddling and snuggling their little ones, but there comes a point when kids may experience stranger anxiety.
What’s stranger anxiety? If you recall a time when you were much younger and you wanted to carry another person’s baby but they don’t want to come any near you or anybody, that’s stranger anxiety.
When you have your own baby, you might experience this as well. Some stranger anxiety that your child might feel can become extreme. While it can be overwhelming to the mental health of the new mum, stranger anxiety is a clear indication that your child is developing normally. And this is something babies eventually overcome.
The severity may differ from one child to another depending on their temperament and the level of attachment. If you are wondering how to overcome stranger anxiety in babies, don’t fret. We have covered everything you need to know in this article.
Why Do Babies Want To Be Held?
When babies are less than four-months-old, that’s the time they get accustomed to the world outside their own mother’s body. It takes some time for them to adjust to the loud environment. To help them adjust, they look for their mother’s warmth, because it’s the same warmth they felt when they were still inside their mum’s womb.
And, when they cannot feel the touch of their mother, they feel stressed. And the only way they can convey such stress and discomfort is by crying and resisting another person’s touch.
What Is the Psychology behind Stranger Anxiety?
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Stranger anxiety is the fear and distress that infants and young kids feel when an unknown person approaches them. Children start experiencing stranger anxiety around 12 to 15 months.
During this time, the infant or the young child becomes attached to the caregiver and gets extremely cautious when spoken to or touched by a stranger. It’s during this time when the child has already learned to distinguish between the people they are in constant contact with and the ones that are not. And, so their response is to welcome the familiar and reject the unfamiliar.
American psychologist, Harry Harlow says touch is a major factor in a child’s life for forming and developing a relationship with the adult around.
That’s why whenever a stranger comes near them, be it a friend or a family member, the infant or toddler will hold on to the caregiver’s clothing. But, as the child grows older, the less and less distressed they are towards strangers.
Stranger Anxiety vs. Separation Anxiety
You may have heard of the concept of separation anxiety and might be wondering if that’s the same as stranger anxiety. They occur around the same time, but they differ in some aspects.
Stranger anxiety is a child’s distress on being held by someone other than their parents or caregivers. Separation anxiety is the distress they feel when they are being left alone or are being separated from their parents.
Again, stranger anxiety is normal. And, it’s not always bad. The fact that they can sense who is familiar and who is not is a good sign that they won’t just warm up to anybody. Imagine if your child didn’t have stranger anxiety and is approached by an unfamiliar person who has ill intentions. They won’t cry or show distress. You will not know they were taken away.
Signs of Stranger Anxiety
Your child may express their stranger anxiety in many ways.:
This reaction is pretty common. You will feel your baby stiffen in your arms when someone unfamiliar comes close to them. This reaction is a sign that they are having stranger anxiety.
Another pretty obvious sign is when they start crying and clinging close to you when approached by someone unfamiliar. They might circle their arms around your neck and hide their faces.
Some kids express their stranger anxiety not only by hiding behind your back or clinging to you but also saying repeated No’s and crying. When this happens, remind your relative or friend that your child is experiencing stranger anxiety, so they should not feel unwanted by your kid.
How To Manage Stranger Anxiety In Toddlers
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Now, you know the signs. Next, how do we respond? What do we do? How do we get rid of stranger anxiety? Here are some things you should remember:
Accept that every child is different
Before we discuss strategy, you ought to understand and accept the fact that not all babies will overcome their stranger anxiety at the same pace. Some kids will take some time to manage; some kids won’t. So, whichever of these two ways your kid is going towards, you have to have patience.
Use a “slow desensitisation” strategy
This means you start slow and then work up to someone else holding your baby. So, versus your friend or relative just coming up to your kid and asking to carry him or her, do baby steps first. You can have the person sit next to you while you hold the baby. This will help acquaint the baby with their smell, voice and presence.
Then, get them to slowly talk and touch or tap your baby lightly while you continue to hold them. As the third step, have the person hold your baby while you sit right next to them. As the final step, leave them alone for a while.
Don’t ignore your baby’s distress calls
The experts say that ignoring your baby’s distress or discomfort might most likely increase their anxiety. Like adults, infants also have their own temperament and levels of sociability. True that you should leave your child to make friends at their own pace, but you should never force them to do something that they are not comfortable with.
What parents often subconsciously do when their child is experiencing stranger anxiety is reprimand their child. They react in negative ways, which does not help at all.
The best way to respond is to stay positive, calm, and comforting. Talk to them calmly while a relative or friend starts holding them. Hug and kiss them to let them know you are not going anywhere (yet). Sing to them if that calms them down. Do not leave the situation until your child has calmed down.
Prep your fam and friends
It also helps if the ones who are volunteering to hold your baby get a better sense of what calms your baby down. Asking them to be gentle and use a soft, calming voice is one good piece of advice to give. Let them know if your kid warms up more when they sing or dance with them. These little pieces of advice can make a world of difference.
And that wraps up our Stranger Anxiety 101. If you are a first-time mum and your toddler has extreme stranger anxiety, do not feel discouraged that it’s taking so long for your child to adjust.
Instead, find the positive in the situation: (a) that you and only you are the only person your child trusts and (b) everyone eventually grows out of their stranger anxiety. In other words, the situation is not permanent. Your child will change and adjust in time. So, don’t worry, mum. Just keep being positive!
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