Friday, November 21, 2008

Tips to Help Your Child through Stranger Anxiety

photo by sware

So, Miss String Bean is now in the full-fledged stage of stranger anxiety. We are getting ready to visit family for Thanksgiving and I'm expecting some drama and lots of tears. Here are some tips on how to handle stranger anxiety as you visit relatives this holiday season.
  1. Acknowledge your child's fears are real. For most children, going through some sort of stranger anxiety is a normal developmental stage. Others have a completely normal anxiety or fear of new situations for most of their childhood. Acknowledge your child's feelings and do not force your child into a situation where he or she will become more stressed.
  2. People who are familiar to you are not always familiar to your child. They are strangers. Don't expect your child to welcome kisses and hugs from people he/she does not know. After all, you probably do not kiss or hug strangers yourself! (Even if your child has met them before, they may not remember them!)
  3. Warn relatives of your child's stranger anxiety. Great Aunt Sue wants to snuggle with your precious pumpkin. Imagine her shock, surprise, and feelings when your bundle of joy breaks out in tears screaming for Mommy. Give your relatives a heads-up that your child, although very loving and quite entertaining, will need a few minutes to get to know them (perhaps getting to know them again) before wowing them with all his or her charms.
  4. Allow your child time to be come familiar with his or her new surroundings. If you give your child a few minutes to become familiar with the people and the situation they are in, many children will warm up and begin to work the crowd just like at home. Give them time.
  5. Bring your child's favorite toy and let that new friend play with it first. String Bean has a favorite toy of all time-Curious George. We are bringing that guy with us to be an ambassador to the new family members she'll be seeing. If she sees that familiar toy, she will be more willing to go to that new friend and get to know them since her mind will be on George instead of on who the wacko is with the deep voice and the beard.
  6. Remember your first priority is your child, not your guests. Your guests are adults and will understand that your priority is to comfort your child and look out for their well-being.
I'd love to hear your tips for curbing anxiety in little ones!


Amy said...

Good tips! My boys never had stranger anxiety, but Cashew's had it since birth.

Christy said...

I never forced the issue with my babies. If they didn't want to go to someone, that suited me just fine. I'll hold 'em as long as they'll let me. Mine are now 12 and 9, so it doesn't happen as much anymore - sniff, sniff.

Tamar said...

Thank you for these great ideas and so timely too! I am a child psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety, and I agree wholeheartedly with your suggestions. Stranger anxiety can be a very normal phenomenon, and an opportunity to create an important precedent about how we can overcome anxious situations--
-it's ok to feel scared
- things are hard at first
- approach a little at a time (preferably in mom's or dad's arms first)
-try to end on a good note emphasizing what your child was able to do, rather than what s/he wasn't able to do.

If you're interested in ways to handle various fears and worries in young children, you may want to check out my book: Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Fears, Worries and Phobias at www.freeingyourchild.com.

Thanks for keeping these issues on the radar!
Tamar Chansky, Ph.D.