Fear of strangers is a normal part of young children’s development. Although fear of strangers usually passes by around 18 months of age, it can go on for longer. Our practical strategies can help your child feel less upset while he goes through this phase.
Fear of strangers: the basics
Fear of strangers is a normal stage in a child’s development.
It happens as your baby gets to know and develops a healthy attachment to familiar people – like you. Because babies prefer familiar adults, they might react to strangers by crying or fussing, going very quiet, looking fearful or hiding.
Fear of strangers usually becomes more intense at around 7-10 months of age. It can last a few months or continue for much longer. It usually passes somewhere between 18 months and 2 years.
For example, a 10-month old baby who has been going to child care since she was 6 months old might get upset if there’s a new caregiver at the centre. She might cry, bury her head in her mother’s neck or scream when the caregiver tries to take her from her mum or dad.
Separation anxiety also often starts at 8-10 months and usually peaks at 14-18 months. Separation anxiety is when children fear being parted from their parents or guardians, even if they’re left with someone they know, like a grandparent or family friend.
Helping with fear of strangers: what you can do
Although fear of strangers is part of normal development for babies and young children, there are things you can do to help your child feel less upset.
Helping your child feel comfortable
Taking it slowly
Letting your child know what’s happening
Meeting new people
Fear of strangers in children over two years
Most children’s fear of strangers starts to pass by about two years.
If your child’s fear of strangers continues after this time, you could try working on building your child’s independence. If your child feels more independent, she might also feel more confident around strangers.
Here are some tips to help with independence:
Getting help for fear of strangers
Extreme fear of strangers might lead to social anxiety when your child is older. So it’s worth talking to a health professional if your young child’s fear of strangers is really intense, or if it doesn’t reduce even when there are no unfamiliar adults around.
Also, if your child’s fear of strangers isn’t getting any better by the time she’s two years old, or it’s getting worse, you might want to think about seeking professional help in addition to encouraging your child’s independence.
And it might also be a good idea to seek help if there’s a family history of anxiety, because your child might be showing early signs of anxiety.
You know your child best. If you’re worried about his fear of strangers, you could talk to the following professionals:
Play is a great relationship builder. Spending time playing with your child sends a simple message – you are important to me. Help your child learn about who she is and where she fits in the world.