Written by Pradeep
Many toddlers develop a fear of strangers. While the fear in itself will pass in a few months, an overly anxious child who will not mingle with your family and friends can pose a social problem – mainly in the form of your child being labelled as “shy” or “anti-social” or “clingy” by others.
In reality, however, the fear of stranger stems from your child’s intelligent thinking. As your child grows, he becomes more and more familiar with his close family and friends circle. His rationale tells him that someone he does not know can be dangerous to him. Further, your child love the routine, you have built for him for a day. Dealing with a stranger is not something he anticipates – and hence is met with protest.
Your toddler may react to his fear of strangers or surprising situations by crying and holding on tightly to you. From the age of about 7-8 months, most babies suffer from anxiety when held by strangers or when they meet unknown people. This resentment is seen more among babies who do not see many people in their daily life and are used to see and interact with 2-3 people only. Your child may display his resentment as being fussy, clingy or by throwing tantrums. At times, you really want your child to mingle and not hide behind you. Encouraging your child to be interactive and be a part of bigger groups you can ease his fear and anxiety and help him become confident.
Follow the below 8 tips to tackle your toddler’s fear of strangers.
Make sure your child is not caught off guard. Tell him in advance who is going to visit and prepare him for it. Explain to him that the guests are close to you and want to be his friends. This way he knows someone is coming and understands they are safe
Just like you prepare your child, advise your guests against picking your child the moment they arrive and overwhelm them with kisses and cheek-pulling. Explain to them your child prefers a more gradual approach and assure them that you will ease your kid into it
Do not ridicule your child’s fears. If your child is showing discomfort, then rather than pushing them to behave (“don’t be shy, come on, say hello”), hug and comfort him. Take him to some place away from the new faces and tell him that it’s okay and assure him you are not disappointed or angry
One way to get your child used to seeing new faces is to take him out often. Try to find time for at least one small outing daily (to a nearby park or play area) and one bigger outing weekly (to a mall or zoo). Once they familiarize themselves to the new place, start introducing them to people whom you know. More new people they meet while at a safe distance, the better they will get at dealing with their fear
As with anything related to your child, you cannot expect to remove this fear in a day. If you push him too hard from the second day, it will be counterproductive. If you give up after just one or two weeks, then it will not help them
Practice how to deal with strangers through role play. You and your baby can take turns to be a stranger. Discuss how to greet a stranger and how to react when a stranger does something your child does not like (picking up and kissing, for instance). More prepared they are, less afraid they will be
The fear of strangers usually passes on its own by the time the child is 2 years old. However, if it continues past their second birthday, it might be because you are over-protecting/shielding your child and not giving him enough chances to socialize. Try to make him as independent as his age permits. And expose him to new people. This will help them come out of their shell
Sometimes extreme fear of strangers can lead to social anxiety as the child grows bigger. If you think your child’s fear is getting worse with time, or if there is a family history of social anxiety, then it might be a good idea to talk to your child’s doctor
If you follow all these tips and techniques, but still see no result in your child’s fear and anxiety around people he is not familiar with, do not fret. For starters, this will go away by the time the child is 2 or 2.5. And more importantly, the world is not a safe place anymore. Your child has every reason to be afraid of strangers. This might sound cynical – but may be a child who draws attention by wailing in the arms of a stranger might turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
Read more about coping with a clingy child and dealing with a shy child here and here.
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