Babies are born in the world without any prejudice, caste, creed or malice. Their hearts are pure and bear no ill thoughts toward anyone. Yet, some of them cry endlessly when handed over to or in the presence of certain people. These people could even be close family members and friends! Why does this happen?
When you introduce someone to your baby, the reaction you get will depend on several factors in the baby's mind. His physical state matters - i.e. whether he is well-fed, energetic, and has had enough sleep. But his mental state matters too. As per studies, almost 80% of babies suffer some kind of anxiety while meeting or being held by certain people - familiar or strangers. This behaviour is referrerd to as stranger or people anxiety and crops up around the age of 7-8 months. It may last for a few weeks or even a few months.
It has been seen that this happens more to babies who are not too much in contact with people outside their closest ones, or are used to seeing only 2-3 people around them. But all babies show this fear to some degree. Well, even adults are usually a bit apprehensive of some people, so it is no surprise that babies should be wary of them too! It is this anxiety they manifest by crying or tugging hard at their mother and making the person wonder what on earth is wrong with him!
So, the next time your baby meets someone and starts crying at once, see if one of these reasons could be at play:
- The baby senses stress from the person and reacts to this. This is likelier if the person seems nervous about holding him, seems to be upset or is distracted. Babies can understand these cues very well
- The baby may be picking up certain feelings of animosity, nervousness or pain from you towards that person. What his mom thinks is very important for the baby!
- The baby may find certain physical charcteristics about a person intimidating or scary. For example, if both his parents are small-built, the baby may cry when faced with a tall, largely-built person
- The baby is just more afraid and anxious than other babies - some children are. It is just a part of their personality, but could get aggravated by causes such as a previous injury, parental separation, or even over-protective parents
- The baby is not feeling too well, is sleepy, or overstimulated. In this case, his reaction may not have anything to do with the person
How to Reduce Stranger Anxiety in Your Baby
Once you have figured out the cause of your baby's behaviour, there is no more reason to get worried. You should also explain this to close friends/family in case you perceive they are distraught with your baby's reaction. Here are some things you should start doing to drive away the fear of strangers from your child’s mind:
- Tell your friends and relatives to approach the baby smilingly and cautiously. They can use the baby’s favorite toy to attract attention. As the baby loves the toy, chances are that the baby will notice your presence and won’t feel very uncomfortable.
- Do not force your child onto strangers; give your baby some time to judge a person. The baby will feel comfortable as a few hours pass.
- Give your baby only to those people who are confident of holding a baby. If both of them are scared, chances are that the baby will start crying easily.
- Your baby takes cues from you so whenever you have a new person around, talk to the person holding the baby. The baby feels reassured with your feelings and may extend an arm himself.
- If you are hiring a new daycare giver for the baby, spend some time with both of them together. Do not leave as soon as she comes. The baby’s biggest fear is separation from the mother. Make sure your baby gets comfortable. Do not look anxious or depressed, your baby will immediately start crying and will not let you leave.
- Do not show fear, unless you actually are scared of something. Babies tend to mirror your feelings immediately. Reassure your baby that he will always be safe with you.
- Help your baby to fight his fears, whenever you see your baby making an extra effort to overcome his fear, encourage him. Reward him with words or extra chocolate. This will increase fearlessness in the baby.
- Respect your babies’ choices. If your child doesn’t like a stranger’s company, do not leave your baby with him. Be around till your baby gets comfortable, and keep talking to your baby.
Ultimately, do not be offended if people start judging your baby as too shy or sensitive just because she seems more anxious than the other babies around. Some people are born that way, and it is a natural personality trait. In fact, being wary of strangers might actually be a good thing. You can be assured that your baby will not be easily susceptible to any wrong doing! Being afraid is also a sign that your baby is alert enough to sense changes around him. The best thing is to remain calm and patient, watch out for cues that your child gives, and encourage him to be a part of bigger groups. With time, your baby will learn to make friends, manage his reactions, and blossom into a confident person.
Always make sure your child knows that you are there for him. There's nothing more important than that!