Around 8 to 10 months of age, many babies develop stranger anxiety, a fear of unfamiliar people that can include friends, neighbors, and family members they don’t regularly see. Even a change in the physical appearance of someone familiar—a new beard or sunglasses—can trigger stranger anxiety.
Don’t worry that your baby is unfriendly if they cry, fuss, turn their head away, or cling to you when they meet someone they don’t recognize. It’s easy to feel embarrassed or even responsible when your baby rejects someone you care about, but these kinds of behaviors are actually a sign of social-emotional growth, says Gabrielle Felman, a senior child development expert at Lovevery. Your baby is beginning to recognize people they know and may be hesitant or wary of those they don’t.
Stranger anxiety is developmentally appropriate and won’t last forever—most children outgrow it by the age of 3. In the meantime, try these five strategies from Felman.
1. Manage expectations
When it’s possible, tell people ahead of time that your baby is going through a new stage of development and may need a little extra time before they are ready to be held or even talked to. This can be tricky for grandparents and other family members your baby may have felt comfortable with in the past. Reassure them that your baby’s uncertainty is part of their growth and it will pass ❤️
2. Be calm
You may be excited to see guests, but try to do initial greetings calmly so your baby feels safe. You might recommend that visitors speak in a low voice, limit eye contact, and move slowly around your baby.
3. Wait for signs of comfort from your baby
Let people know to wait for signs of comfort from your baby before they pick them up or touch them. This could mean a smile, raised arms, or your baby initiating touch. Picking up a baby who is feeling anxious will likely make the situation worse, despite best intentions. A good rule of thumb is to read your baby’s cues and let them lead.
4. Validate your baby’s feelings
If your baby shows signs of stranger anxiety, try to remain calm and provide support and understanding. Avoid using “don’t” phrases (like “Don’t cry” and “Don’t be scared”) and dismissing their fears. Instead, acknowledge that new people, situations, and routines can be uncomfortable: “you don’t know this person, and you feel nervous. That’s okay. They’re here to take care of you, and you’ll get to know them soon.”
5. Say a short goodbye
When leaving your baby alone with someone for the first time, stay for the first 10 to 15 minutes, then say goodbye and tell your baby you’ll be back soon. Avoid sneaking away or prolonging the goodbye, and try to act calm and confident—even if you feel a little anxious yourself.
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