The fear of strangers is an integral part of a child’s development. And a little uncertainty about strangers is normal. Developmental fear begins to manifest generally around the age of eight or nine months. Why is this the case?
It’s not a coincidence the fear of strangers starts to rear itself at around the same time the child begins to separate from his mother. She then realizes other people gravitate toward her mother and, incidentally, feels her place has been reduced.
It’s usually the father who’s the first stranger so there may be times when the child is frightened of him. As dad is the first person in charge of the separation process from mom, the child can become fearful towards other men, more so than other women.
Anxiety from “stranger danger” can actually be revealed when the child is confronted with any new situation. This is why he sometimes breaks out in tears when he’s close to people who are not necessarily strangers like uncles, aunts and cousins.
A very real fear of strangers is present usually until about two or three sometimes even four years old. You should start asking yourself questions and think about consulting a professional if it persists beyond this age. It’s especially unhealthy if your family can’t go anywhere or do any activities without bringing the child along all the time.
Here are some helpful tips to reassure your child:
Have your child talk. He clings to you when you visit or receive your brother at home? You can ask him, “Do you love your uncle?” Why are you crying when he comes to us or when we go to his place?
Even if your maternal instinct encourages you to “wrap” your child when a large number of people surround you, this measure is not wise. Obviously, in cases of a family get together or meeting with friends where there’s no other child present, it’s more difficult to let the child fend for himself. You can entrust him to the care of an aunt or friend with whom he is more comfortable. If you always keep your child with you, it will definitely be more difficult to get him to trust others.
● Do not overprotect him.
● Do not force him to face his fear by dragging him for example to the group of people who frighten him.
● Do not compare him to his brothers or sisters, who are not afraid.
● Respect your child: it’s perfectly legitimate to be afraid.
● Offer him your affectionate presence and your listening.
● Provide him with rational answers to his questions about the object of his fear.
● Use the child’s skills, promoting the development of his own strategies to confront his fear.
● Tell him about your own experiences.
● Remind him that he has already defeated this or that other fear.
Getting children to feel comfortable around strangers doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process. Try to exercise patience and understanding as you ease your child into learning how to trust others.