Stranger anxiety or “making strange” is the name given to a baby’s nervous behaviour around unfamiliar people. You’ll notice that your baby will cry inconsolably when held by an unfamiliar person and cling to you when others speak to them. This usually begins around 4 – 6 months of age and can continue until they’re about 2 years old.
Why do babies make strange?
Babies will begin to make strange once they have figured out who their main caregivers are and they begin to feel most safe when they’re with that particular person. You’ll remember when your baby was a newborn they were happy to lie in anyone’s arms as long as they were fed and comfortable. This is because newborns are much less aware of the world around them and haven’t begun to distinguish between people. They are instinctively comforted by their mother’s voice and scent, but not upset by the absence of it.
Why do babies make strange with family members?
Family members such as grandparents may feel upset when your baby cries at the thought of being in their arms, but they shouldn’t take it personally – it’s just a stage in your baby’s development. If your baby sees a family member about once a week they will start to recognise them from about 6 – 9 months old and will stop feeling upset whenever they meet. If your baby sees someone everyday then it will only take a few weeks for them to stop making strange. If you’re returning to work after maternity leave, your baby may find the first weeks difficult as they get to know the person they’re with during the day, but they’ll soon learn that this person is a trustworthy caregiver.
Tips for dealing with stranger anxiety
1) Don't Force Them
When your baby seems nervous around others, hold them in your arms and allow them to get more comfortable in the presence of these other people. Encourage the people to chat quietly with your baby to allow them to start to relax.
2) Stay With Your Baby
Avoid handing your baby to a new person and running away. Offer lots of reassurance so that your baby feels supported and can get to know this new person calmly.
3) Warn People
It can be upsetting for people when your baby bursts into tears at the mere sight of them! Let people know that your baby is making strange so they know they need to be patient.
4) Don't Feel Obligated To Hand Baby To Everyone
Don’t force your baby to sit with someone they’re not comfortable with just to avoid causing offence. People may say your baby needs to be handed over and they’ll eventually just get over it. However this can be counterproductive as your baby feels even more unsure with the next unfamiliar person they meet.
5) Wear Your Baby Facing Outwards In A Baby Carrier
Once your baby has good head and neck control they can face outwards in a baby carrier as you walk around. This allows them to get used to seeing different faces while feeling safe with their parents. Most carriers specify that a baby must be 6 months old before facing outwards, but check your particular carrier’s manual.
6) Discuss Their Feelings As They Get Older
Since stranger anxiety can last for up to 18 months, you can start to help your baby to process these feelings by talking them through it. Let them know when you’re going to be around new people, such as going to a party. Reassure them that you’re there whenever they need you and there’s nothing to worry about.
As with all stages of your baby’s development, stranger anxiety is only temporary. With plenty of love and patience, this phase will pass leaving your baby feeling confident and excited to socialise.