Does your baby suffer stranger anxiety/ separation anxiety? What, when and how to tackle?

What is stranger anxiety?

This is usually demonstrated by crying when an unknown or unfamiliar person approaches. Normally it starts at about 8 – 9 months and usually subsides by age 2 yr. Stranger anxiety is related with the child’s developmental task of distinguishing the acquainted from the unacquainted. Both the duration and intensity of the nervousness(anxiety) vary greatly among kids.

Some babies show a strong preference for one parent over another at a certain age, and grandparents may suddenly be viewed as strangers. Anticipating these happenings during visits helps prevent misinterpretation of the behavior. Comforting the child and avoiding overreaction to the behavior are usually the only therapy needed.

If a new person is coming, having that person spend some time with the family before the actual day makes sense. When the event arrives, having parents spend some time with the child and sitter before they leave is prudent. If grandparents are coming to watch the child for a few days while parents go away, they should arrive a day or two early.

Stranger anxiety of pronounced intensity may be a sign of more generalized anxiety and should prompt evaluation of the family situation, parenting techniques, and the child’s overall emotional state.

The day-to-day relationship between baby and parents, not the degree of anxiety when meeting strangers is the best measure of emotional health in the baby.

Stranger anxiety is a normal part of a child’s cognitive development Parents are concerned about educating their children to be cautious when approached by unfamiliar people. However, we need to find a balance between concern and encouragement of their natural inquisitiveness and friendliness, while at the same time teaching them that they should always rely on parental supervision and consent in dealing with outsiders.

Stranger anxiety can sometimes upset friends and relatives, who may feel rejected by a suddenly introverted child. The baby may reject a caregiver he/she was previously comfortable with or grow hysterical when relatives visit. This can be unsatisfying for us, since the baby may reject the parent who is not the principal caregiver. Parents should respect the child’s fear and allow her to approach people as she is able. If the child does not want to be hugged by or sit with a relative, it is ill-advised to force her. In the long run, children outgrow their fear and become more easy-going with strangers.

Safe attachment and social referencing

Around 8-9 months’ babies would have reached an important milestone in the development of an attachment to their mother. Babies with a healthy attachment relationship prefer being near their mother, because mother is the person who helps them with their physical and emotional needs.

Although they may move away from mother to explore, they will still look back at her face for assurance when they’re not sure about something. This is called ‘social referencing’.

Person permanence

Most babies at this stage would have developed an understanding of person permanence (that people still exist when they can’t be seen). Whereas before they had to be able to physically see mother to know she existed, they can now hold a picture of her in their mind.

When baby can’t see mother, they may become upset and terrible in response to the separation. It’s still better for mum to tell baby she’s leaving, rather than hoping baby won’t notice her going.

So always wave a goodbye and say that you will be back sooner to comfort the child.

Separation anxiety- what is it?

Separation anxiety is when a baby becomes worried or upset when they’re separated from the person who cares for them the most — often it’s the mother. Babies understand that people leave before they learn that people return. They can tell from your actions that you are about to leave. Anxiety begins to build even before you leave. Upset and crying occur at the time of separation , sleep difficulties are common.

This usually develops in the second half of the first year.

How can you reduce this or tackle this?

  1. Practice to stay away for short durations.
  2. Introduce strangers early.
  3. Try distracting the baby when you leave
  4. Always leave when she feels good that when she well fed or not sleepy.
  5. Learn to say goodbye which would signal that you will not be available.
  6. Don’t look back.
  7. Don’t fall for the tears, they are short lived.

Author: Sindhu Vinod Narayan

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