Stranger Anxiety or fear is a normal developmental stage, or sequence experienced in children. It can start around 6 months of age, peaks around 8-9 months and lasts till about 12 months, sometimes may be seen till 24 months.
One of the earliest developmental milestones a baby develops is recognition of the mother, and the baby is comforted by the mother’s touch, sound or smell.
Children are not born with the awareness of meeting a stranger, but experience it when they actually see strangers and seek protection from familiar people. Infants feel protected with the caregivers than unfamiliar people.
Though stranger anxiety is considered a part of normal development, it is believed that parents’ behaviour, especially mother’s anxious behaviour, has more likelihood of causing anxiety in children.
Stranger anxiety may present as the child burying himself in parents/caregivers arms or holding on to the legs, the child may start crying loudly or being fussy and would want to be picked up by the parent.
Managing stranger anxiety or dealing with it should be done patiently. The child’s feelings should be valued over the strangers’. The stranger can be well informed that the child has such feelings towards unknown people. Whenever any stranger is to visit the child, he or she can distract the child with a familiar toy. A calm tone of the person or a smile on his face can allay the child’s anxiety. The parent or the caregiver should try and hold the child’s hand to create a feeling of trust.
Gradual warming up technique by introducing the stranger in the presence of the parent always helps. Parents should try and take children to new places and introduce new faces frequently to overcome this issue.
Stranger anxiety usually fades away with time, and the parents should not get too worried about it. A pediatricians’ help may be sought if the stranger’s anxiety doesn’t improve or regress with time.