Stranger Anxiety

sLesTa

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.

13 Comments

  1. January 25, 2010 at 9:52 am

    aina went through the *exact* same thing when we took her “mudik” to Jakarta when she was 18 months… we learned it the hard way (she cried for half an hour straight), until we realized that all she needed was a hug and a place to bury her head on when strangers come to touch and pinch her cheeks (in her term: invading her boundary, i guess).

    during the worst time, she would be shaking and crying when she meet people other than her parents. and we had to carry her all the time, because she’s not comfortable to have *any* eye contact with adults. strangely, children are okay though…

    yeah, it took her months to warm up to strangers and let us go for work or even just grocery shopping.

  2. alin
    alin ramadhan January 25, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    shin, suami gue juga suka bilang ke anak gue kalo mau ngantor… “nak, papa ke kantor dulu ya. nanti malem papa pulang, kita main lagi.”

    anak gue jadi ngerti :) jadi pas lagi maen bareng sama gue, dia suka nanya… papa mana? trus gw bilang lagi kerja. udah deh, biasa lagi. main.

  3. Liz
    Liz January 25, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    True, everytime we went home for mudik, my daughter has become the object of my family’s “attraction”. Sometimes I wanted to protest when a member of my family just grab her from me, but at the same time I did not want to offend her/him. Fortunately, CĂ©lia coped quite well and did not get the above reactions. Maybe as you mentioned, because I stayed close to her.
    After reflexion, she might have had the stranger anxiety when she refuses to jump into the hotel’s pool, because there were like thousand of people in there (I exaggerate :-)). We did not force her. We instead played at a quiet beach.

  4. muti
    muti January 25, 2010 at 7:07 pm

    shin, liat fotonya naia jadi sedih… :) kebayang yah pasti kaget dia karena dicubit gemes & disambut gembira sama ‘strangers’.
    aisya juga pernah kayak naia… dan bener, tips yang diatas berguna banget & beneeer banget :)

  5. ninit
    ninit yunita January 25, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    jadi inget dulu kalo ketemu keponakan, pasti langsung pengen nyubit gemes dan gendong2 gitu. iya ya… padahal buat anaknya bisa jadi sesuatu yg mengagetkan. kok tiba2 ada stranger yg kayak gitu.

    tks buat tipsnya yah shin. very useful :)

  6. eka
    Eka Wulandari Gobel January 25, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    dududu… naia jangan sedih dooong.. jadi ikutan sedih niih.. ;(

    iya shin, dulu waktu mudik pertama kali ke rumah eyang putri-nya enzo langsung disambut gembira, digendong2, dicium2, diajak tepuk2 tangan… jadinya enzo malah bete.

    sejak itu, kita suka cerita dulu ke enzo tentang orang2 yang bakal ktemu dia. misalnya hari itu kita mau ke rumah tantenya, jadi kita ceritain dulu tentang ‘si tante’ dan ntar di rumah si tante itu kita mau ngapain aja, ada apa, dll.. jadinya enzo punya sedikit gambaran dan pas ktemu nanti gak ‘kaget’ dan jadi bete :)

    tfs, shinta!

  7. January 26, 2010 at 12:24 am

    wah, ternyata stranger anxiety akut kayak aina dan naia ga se-common yang gue kira. sempet mikir kalo semua anak ngelewatin masa seperti itu… ternyata engga ya?

    dulu aina kalo ketemu orang gede, udah kayak trauma campur phobia. ketakutan ampe gemeter…

  8. shinod
    Shinto Husnul Khotimah January 26, 2010 at 1:22 am

    Baru tau kl kita tdk memberikan kesempatan anak untuk dipisahkan dari diri kita nanti anak bs jd stranger anxiety (Ibu saya menggunakan istilah “jado kandang” Hahaha). Lalu bgmn dgn nasib saya nanti krn saya FTM otomatis seharian dgn anak dan sangat jarang pergi tanpa anak? 0_o

  9. fanny
    Fanny Hartanti January 26, 2010 at 1:23 am

    kalau gue mudik selalu wanti2 ke keluarga ‘nanti kalau baru nyampe jangan terlalu heboh yah, kalau perlu rada cuekin dikit, biar alyssa yg mulai duluan’
    dengan begini si neng al jadi agak punya kontrol. dia sendiri yg mutusin kpn dia ngerasa aman buat mulai ‘gaul’
    pd dasarnya anak gue bukan tipe pemalu (justru cenderung malu2in, :-)) biasanya dia yg hobi negur dan ngajak ngobrol strangers. Tapi kalau pas di Indonesia, dia jadi suka judes dan gak seramah biasanya. Kayaknya karena dia gak pede dan sedikit frustasi nggak bisa m’ekspresikan dirinya krn bhs indonya yg masih patah2 :(

  10. sLesTa
    shinta lestari January 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    @thalia – iya ternyata gak se-common yang gue kira juga. mungkin buat kita2 yang tinggal di luar, dimana si anak juga ga sering2 ketemu orang banyak (read: keluarga, dll) jadinya kemungkinan kena stranger anxiety ini lebih rentan.

    @alin – iya gue juga gitu, selalu bilang ke naia kalo mau ngantor. tapi kalo papanya sih dia cuek. hehe.. cuma walopun dia nangis pas gue pergi, pas liat gue pergi sambil gue dadah2in, dia akhirnya bilang “bye bye” sih.

    @liz – iya kayaknya kalo buat anak2 yang jarang2 ketemu keluarga itu lebih kemungkinan kena masalah ini yah? soalnya keluarga kan mikirnya.. “ini kan sodara gue, jadi mesti deket & kenal dong”.. sementara si anak kan ga pernah ketemu jadi ya ga bisa langsung deket lah.

    @muti – sama2 mut. alhamdulillah sekarang udah mendingan. kadang kalo ada orang yang dia gak terlalu kenal (biasanya kakek2), dia masih suka takut, tapi paling gak, dia gak bakal sampe yang meluk gue gitu.

    @ninit – mungkin elo mesti share gimana caranya alde gak kena stranger anxiety nit! :)

    @eka – selama ini kita mikirnya sih ya karena naia masih kecil. jadi kalo diceritain pun masih belom ngerti. tapi sekarang sih udah, dan berbarengan ketakutannya ama orang pun udah makin berkurang.

    @shinod – sebenernya gak juga sih, tar kalo udah gede pasti bakal misah. cuma kadang gue jadi mikir, emang sih si anak jadi jauuhh lebih mandiri kalo sering ditinggal ama mamanya. karena dia ngerasa harus bisa sendiri. tapi tetep aja begitu ketemu ibunya, manjanya keluar lagi deh.

    @fanny – iya bener! keluarga semua gue juga gitu sekarang, kalo ketemu naia terpaksa pura2 gak liat dulu, sampe naia yang sibuk minta perhatian.. hehe..

  11. sasa_mommytwinnie
    Elisa Darmadi January 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    wah cicel suka gini nih…tapi cuma sama orang” tertentu aja…karena tinggal di pekanbaru jauh dari kluarga jadi skalinya ada yang dateng k sni heboh mau liat twinnie…semua rebutan mau peluk,gendong,cium”…sedangkan si cicel tipe yg agak” milih orang…
    contoh: pertama kali dateng ke pekanbaru selama 1 minggu cicel ga mau digendong,ditegor ato dicium papinya..dia akan melengos ato yg parah nangis jerit”…(karena twinnie 5bln sejak lahiran di jkt sedangkan papinya di pku)
    sama emaknya yg suda bbrp kali ketemu dia tetep nangis kalo digendong…tapi dgn org yg baru pertama kali ketemu dia malah mao…bingung kan..hanya org” tertentu yg bikin cicel nangis kalo digendong..

    sedangkan kembarannya si gaby…malah seneng jadi pusat perhatian..dia menikmati di puji” org…*jiwa narsis keluar hehe*

    apa ada pengaruhnya dgn sifat manja?karena cicel “agak” manja..mengingat dy lahir prematur dgn kondisi yg lbh kecil dr gaby..kalo iya,berarti saya ikut andil dunk..karena wkt lahir dy butuh perhatian yg lebih extra dibanding gaby…

  12. dandan
    Raydanni Diliana Rizki March 1, 2011 at 9:46 pm

    hallo mba slesta,
    makasih yaa infonya… sekarang jadi tau istilahnya.

    sama ceritanya pas diajak mudik Justin umur 12bln dan ngga mau berinteraksi dengan eyang2nya, justin anak pertama dan cucu pertama. jadi eyangnya berharap banget bisa main2 sama justin.

    kebetulan kita juga jauhan tinggalnya, jadi jarang banget bisa ketemu eyang2.

    jadi inget juga, pernah liat nanny 911, pernah dibahas juga… keadaan yang kayak langsung disambut gembira, pengen peluk, cium, malah bikin anak terintimidasi…

    jadi kalo baru kenal ada lingkaran aman buat anak, kira2 diameter lingkarannya satu meter. jarak satu meter itu cukup buat anak merasa dihargai untuk loading dulu dengan situasi dan orang baru.
    dan memang lebih baik anaknya yang mulai duluan untuk lebih deket lagi.

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