Your baby and the fear of strangers and separation anxiety
For about 7 months your baby likes everyone and anyone. If someone smiles at them they smile back. When you left the room to get something your baby waited patiently until you returned. All of a sudden, your baby becomes fearful of strangers. If you leave for even a moment your baby protests. If a stranger comes close to them they struggle like never before. Welcome to the phase of the ‘fear of strangers’ and separation anxiety.
Leap of relationships: key to mommy-must-stay
When your baby takes the leap of relationships, around 26 weeks after the due date, this is the first time they are capable of understanding that the distance between two things does not always stay the same. The distance between people can increase or decrease.
For the first time, they understand that mommy and daddy can increase the distance between them both. Baby can be left behind! Because your little one is not yet physically able to move towards you, they realize that mom is the one who determines when the distance will increase. Baby has nothing to say about it and that scares them, which results in a loud scream and cry for mom.
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Fear of strangers as a step forward
When your baby has become fearful of strangers it may seem like they have taken a step backward in their development. In actual fact, it is quite the opposite. As baby now understands what distances are, they also understand they can’t take for granted that mom is always there. Mommy can leave, move away from them and leave them ‘alone.’ They get upset because they subconsciously know that they are dependent on her. They panic. They panic because mom is leaving, and they understand what the consequences of that could be. They now understand a lot more than they did before this leap. A fear of strangers is thus a major leap forward. Even though for a parent, it won’t always feel like that.
Hanging on Mom or Dad
In the vast majority of families, the mom is the one who is with the baby most of the time so a baby going through a fear of strangers will hang on her the most. If you belong to one of the exceptional families where the dad is with the baby the majority of the time, then your baby will probably hang on their dad more.
Help your baby with their separation anxiety
Every child is different and not every child will be as fearful of strangers as the next. The level of that fear depends not only on how you treat your baby but also on their character. You have no influence on the latter. By playing games with your baby that respond to this new separation anxiety you help them to understand that you may be out of sight once in a while, but you always come back.
- Tell your baby you are about to leave for a moment, tell them what you are going to do and that you will come back.
- Play ‘peek-a-boo’ more often, using toys and also yourself.
- Continue to talk or sing when you are out of sight. Then baby knows you are still around.
- Never just sneak off, even if you find it hard to deal with their tears. Say goodbye quickly and lovingly. And if baby is crying because they are upset that you have left, make sure there is someone there who can tell them that you will return.
- The most important tip we can give you is to take the separation anxiety seriously and do not make fun of it or trivialize it.
Facts in a row: fear of strangers…
- … can start from the leap of relationships (6 months)
- … is at its peak between 8 and 18 months
- … can sometimes last until your child is 3 years’ old
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