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Is your child screaming and crying around strangers? Here’s what you need to know about stranger anxiety in children.

In the past, you might have handed over your baby to just about anyone who wanted to hold them without much fuss as long as they’re full, warm and comfortable. But now you noticed your once social child has started taking a pass on pass-the-baby. What gives? For someone who has never rejected going to the nearest lap, it may seem a little strange for them to be anti-social out of a sudden however, it is actually very common as babies get a little older. This is called stranger anxiety and it happens as your baby develops a healthy attachment to familiar people – like you.

When your baby was younger, they were a lot less picky with people. But now that they’re a tad older and wiser, they’re clued into the fact that their parents and caregivers are the most important people in their life. Everyone else – possibly the grandparents, uncles and aunties they once adored, can take the backseat, preferably (from their perspective) as far away as possible.

What is stranger anxiety?

Stranger anxiety is the distress that babies experience when they meet or are left in the care of people who are unfamiliar to them. This phase is a completely normal developmental stage that often begins around 6-8 months, typically peaks between 12-15 months before it begins to gradually decrease as babies continue to grow.

How long does it last?

Stranger anxiety will resolve on its own with time. It may continue in some form until about 2 years of age, though some children will outgrow it sooner.

 How to help children deal with stranger anxiety

As with many stages of emotional development in children, a good dose of patience can go a long way. And while you can’t fast forward through the phase, you can try taking some of these approaches to help ease this milestone.

Wait it out. Yep, just sit tight and enjoy the rollercoaster. With some children, this phase will be over in a flash. With others, it may linger for months. But sooner or later, your child will realize that they don’t have to choose between you and others, and their suspicion of strangers will pass.

Give a heads up. To your child, tell them who’s coming to visit so they aren’t caught off guard. To other family members who come to visit, let them know that your child is experiencing an anxious phase and needs time to warm up.

Stay within an arm’s reach. When a child’s stranger anxiety kicks in, it’s always helpful to make it clear to them that they are safe by holding them or staying close to them.

Don’t force it. Insisting your child to come face to face with their anxiety – and those strangers – will only feed it. It’ll be less stressful for everyone if you let them decide when and where to open up.

As you move through the stranger anxiety phase, remember to be patient with your child, and try to remain calm and warm as they experience distress. Hang in there! Once your child realizes that unfamiliar people are simply future friends, they’ll overcome their shyness.

And if you ever need a babysitter, our babysitters are all trained and equipped with the appropriate skills to care for children with stranger anxiety for your peace of mind!