After taking Naia to Jakarta during Lebaran holiday last year (she was 18 months old), Naia came back with a new trait. She tends to shy away (borderline scared) whenever she sees strangers, especially adults. I guess during the visit, she was meeting so many new faces who wanted to pinch her cheeks, got in front of her and sometimes, took her from my arms cuz they wanted to hold her. I was worried. As soon as she sees an adult (at times, even children), she burried her head into my chest and gripped my hand so tightly, closed her eyes and sometimes began to cry quietly with her eyes closed.
Then I came across an article in Women’s Weekly Singapore that discusses exactly the same symptoms and found that it’s called “Stranger Anxiety”.
Many children develop “stranger anxiety” between five to 12 months, and it can sometimes last till they are two years old. Usually the fear will gradually disappear. I find that sometimes, these fears may also be learned through direct experience or by observing others. As parents, we can help shape a child’s behaviour with the right approach by encouraging the child to form positive relationships with people outside the immediate family circle and develop good social skills.
The article really helps me understand how I can help Naia to overcome her fears by doing the 5-Point Plan from Francis Yeo, the principal Psychologist at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital:
1. Stay close to the child
When new people are around, try and stay close to her. Do not force her to be with a stranger. Instead allow her to look at the stranger while she sits with you.
2. Set an example
Model the behaviour you wish your child to follow. For example, greet the stranger with smiles and a friendly attitude
3. Provide loving comfort
If the child displays fear or cries in the presence of the stranger, respond to her by cuddling or patting her until she calms down.
4. Encourage the child
Praise the child effusively whenever she warms up to strangers
5. Provide opportunities for separation
Try and give the child opportunities to be separated from you, starting with short periods apart. Slowly increase the length of time of the separation.
The latter point was kind of must-be done because I have to leave her for work. When Naia was having this stranger-anxiety period, she started crying everytime I go to work, so I must comfort her and “talk” to her. During those times, I made a point to come home during lunch time so she knows that I’m always around and will come back home before dark (thank God to no traffic jam in Singapore).
After 2 months following the five steps above, Naia has shown that she can warm up faster to unfamiliar faces. She hardly burries her head to my chest anymore whenever she sees stranger. The most she’d do just hold my hand if she’s getting uneasy, which is not so often now. She can even start to shake the hands of those people she just met, even gives a kiss on the cheek and waves goodbye.
One thing for sure that during those times, we should remain calm when the child shows fear of strangers. Do not pressurize her to become “sociable”. Just let her be and stay with her until she feels at ease. And NEVER point out her fears, just act as if you don’t know and do not force her to become friendly.
If you are a working mama and had to leave your child with the nanny or in the daycare, ALWAYS say goodbye when you leave. Never sneak out when you leave your child. You can find more working mamas share their story at our forum.
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