Wondering what happened to your toddler who used to go happily to Aunty G? Why is he now clinging onto you for dear life? Toddler stranger anxiety is a normal part of child development. Don’t worry, you are not doing something wrong.
In fact, just like babies go through a period of stranger anxiety, some toddlers too experience anxiety around unfamiliar people.
WHAT AGE IS STRANGER ANXIETY SEEN IN TODDLERS?
Toddler stranger anxiety can start around 14 months of age and usually disappears on its own by 2 years of age.
WHY DO TODDLERS EXPERIENCE STRANGER ANXIETY?
Even though this anxiety around other family members may feel unreasonable and unpredictable. Toddler stranger anxiety only means your child now has a strong attachment to you. So yes, certain family members he may have played with in the past suddenly make your child anxious. But this has nothing to do with your child becoming introverted suddenly, which is the common misconception.
I have seen many families starting playschool or daycare around this age range because now they fear their child is becoming “shy” and will never learn to be social.
Remember, stranger anxiety is a normal part of childhood development, it indicates a strong bond between you and your child. There is nothing wrong with your child and you are not failing at Parenting.
Some toddlers experience this phase intensely whereas others may skip this stage altogether. Each child is different.
I find this My Feelings Card Set quite useful in helping children understand and name emotions. It creates awareness about what to expect and how the child can express feelings appropriately.
Related reading: How to ease your toddler’s fears
WHAT ARE SOME SIGNS OF STRANGER ANXIETY?
- Anxious around extended family, friends, and other kids
- Hiding behind you or another object (curtains, sofas, and cupboards)
- Crying out for you
- Looking away from the guest
- Avoiding interaction and participation in the party or socialization
- Clinging onto the parent
How can you help your toddler deal with stranger anxiety? Read on
TIPS ON HANDLING TODDLER STRANGER ANXIETY
Prepare your child beforehand
Before you head out to a party or in case you are expecting guests at home, give your toddler a heads up. Describe to him, who he will be meeting. Maybe tell a little backstory about the new person he will be meeting. For eg. “Max Uncle is your daddy’s friend from work. He met you last when you were a baby. He made you laugh with silly faces.”
Sometimes knowing beforehand, helps the child feel prepared to meet new people.
Related reading : Phrases you can say to your child to get him to listen.
Reassure your child
When greeting someone new, and your toddler starts to get anxious, grabbing at your legs or hiding behind furniture take a moment and reassure him. Speak in a calming voice and let him know, that it is all okay. Introduce the guest and then give your child a moment.
Explain to guests or family
Explain to family and guests that your toddler needs a minute. You can reassure the child and explain to guests in one sentence by saying something like, “Tracy will join us when she is ready.” This way your child knows you are there for her and your guests can back off and give the child a moment to warm up to them.
Stay close to your child
After you reassure your child, stay close for a few moments. Let her know you are there for her. Depending on how severe the toddler stranger anxiety is you can either take a few moments breather in another room or carry your child and comfort her.
When you feel assured that the child has calmed down, bring her back into the room and carry on socializing.
To make the toddler feel comfortable around a room full of strangers or a new guest, get her involved in helping out. Ask the toddler to carry out a box of napkins for the guest table or bring water for the guest. All along stay close to your child until you see them relax and get confident in moving around the new person in the room.
Continue with your social life. Don’t change anything.
A few incidents of extreme toddler stranger anxiety should not deter you from having a social life. Both you and your child need to socialize and take breaks from routine. Continue with exposure to new unfamiliar social scenarios and don’t think too much about what others think of your child or parenting style.
Give it time
Most importantly give it time. The child needs to feel confident to step into the world and the only way she can do it is with you by her side.
Most experienced parents will tell you that toddler stranger anxiety does not last more than a few months. Sure it feels hard when you are dealing with it, but remember this phase too shall pass.
Trust in your child and give her some time to figure this out and become more social. She is watching you interact with those around you. Model the behavior you want to see in her, and she will soon get over the stranger anxiety.
I hope these tips help your family through this phase in child development. Like everything in parenting, take it one day at a time.