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Hello, baby!

From aunts and uncles to friends and neighbors, baby is constantly meeting new people. Meeting people is a great way to work on baby’s social skills.

While meeting baby is usually a happy occasion for the adults and older children involved, meeting new people can sometimes be hard for baby. They may feel anxious or confused by new faces and voices, sometimes called “fear of strangers” or “stranger anxiety”. Even as they get older, some young children may be a little bit scared to meet new people.

In the past two years, baby may not have been meeting as many new people as you would have hoped—but that’s ok!

No matter baby’s age or experience with new people, there are lots of ways to introduce them to new faces.

How should babies and children react when they meet new people? Some babies are scared, while others don’t seem to mind it at all. If baby is afraid, remember fear of strangers is a common and normal stage of child development. So there is nothing wrong with baby being scared—it’s actual a very common reaction!

How do you know if your child has a fear of strangers? Here are some signs:

  • Crying
  • Fussiness
  • Fearful look on baby’s face
  • Baby becomes very quiet
  • Attempting to hide
  • Hanging on to a person they feel safe with

When does fear of strangers begin? Every baby is different, but most will begin to develop this fear around 7-10 months of age. For some children it will last a few months, while others will continue to have a fear of strangers for years.

two babies sharing ball as moms watch

How can you help your child meet new people and reduce their fears? Even if your child is afraid of new people, it’s important for their social skills to meet new people. So here’s how to help them with meeting people:

  • Bond with baby. When baby bonds with their primary caregiver, they develop an attachment, which gives them a sense of safety and comfort. Having a healthy attachment is important for baby’s social skills and development.
  • Keep physical contact with your baby while they meet new people. Hold their hand or have them sit on your lap while meeting new faces.
  • Stay calm and greet the new person warmly, to set a good example.
  • If your child has a lovey, you can bring it with while they meet new people.
  • If possible, introduce children to new people at home or in a place they’re familiar with. If baby is going to be in a new place, like a daycare, you can go there with them a few times before you leave them there, to help them get familiar with the environment.
  • Try playing with baby while they meet new people. Give the new person a toy to play with while they meet them, or invite the person to join in on a game. You can also have new people help with daily activities, like reading a bedtime story to baby.
  • If you child is old enough to understand, try to prepare them to meet new people. Say, “we are going to meet my friend today.” Your child can make plans to give the new person a gift, or ask them a question to make the meeting go more smoothly.
  • You can also work on having your child become more independent if they are old enough, which may help with their confidence and communication. Have them try some time every day playing alone.
  • Consider video chatting! While this may not be the primary way children meet new people, babies as young as 8 months can learn how to interact over video.

Even if it doesn’t go well the first time baby meets someone new, don’t be discouraged! Keep introducing baby to new people, but also remember to be patient. Don’t push them, or if they’re crying continuously, remove them from the situation. The process doesn’t need to be rushed.

If your child’s fear of strangers is intense and doesn’t seem to be lessening at they get older, speak to a healthcare provider.