How do I help my child overcome the fear of others?
The pandemic has kept us from spending quality time with friends and family—and for young children, a world of social isolation is all they know. CareNectar expert Martha Tyler shares guidance for how to help your child feel comfortable meeting new adults in their life.
The pandemic amplified the stranger danger phase for my child. Now, as close family members have become vaccinated, we are starting to get together with others outside of our household. Our child was 6 months at the start of the pandemic. Now, over a year later, she wails when anyone besides us even looks her way. I know time will help, but is there anything else we can do to help her?
This is so very hard and a widespread problem that we all need to navigate together. There are a few different things to consider here:
- Your child is hardwired to pick up on your emotions. This means that if you are nervous around getting back together with people, your child will pick up on this from a mile away. Even if you’re nervous that your child will react poorly, it will still send warning signs to your child. As much as you can do to take deep breaths and calm yourself as much as possible, the better this will probably go!
- Set your friends’ and family’s expectations. Before you hang out with friends and family—who I know are so enthusiastic to see your sweet child—talk with them about how your child is struggling with new people right now. Ask them to be on your team and give your child as much space as they need. Tell them that you know they want to see and hold and hug your child, but your child’s comfort is most important to you. Also, consider how many new people are dropping by to meet your child at one time. It is better and easier to introduce one or two people at a time before a group of six new people comes bustling into the house.
- Talk with your child. Tell your child about how new people—friends and family—are coming over. Even if your child is still too young to have a full-blown discussion with, it can be helpful to model meeting new people. Role play meeting new people with their dolls or stuffed animals. When you go out for walks, start greeting people again. And when new adults come to your house, allow space and time for your child to get away from them. Have a fort or an area in which the child is mostly enclosed but can peer out into the adult world. This helps them feel safe and they can observe what’s happening until they feel ready to join. It also gives you the opportunity to talk with the other adults. Do not force your child to show affection or give hugs to someone they are not yet comfortable with. Rather, allow your child to see you give hugs and talk about how they are welcome to just wave or show a new toy. Sometimes it’s easier if you have an activity or a book ready for the new adult to do/read with the child. Children warm up faster through play or storytime.
Patience is key here. You can’t speed up the process as much as you might want to. Invite without forcing your child to engage with new people and tell them they are safe and welcome to go to their safe spot (that fort or place from which they can look out). If you’d like time with friends and family without having to navigate your child’s big feelings, it might be worth hiring a babysitter or inviting folks over after bedtime. This is so hard, but the most important steps are going to be honoring that your child’s fears are valid. Their whole world is getting upended and changing right under their nose. We’ve spent the last year not seeing other people and now we’re asking them for some pretty big shifts very quickly.
Take it slowly and celebrate wins when they happen! And we are here for you if more questions pop up!
Meet The Expert
Martha has her Masters in Education and is a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator. She has worked as a sitter, nanny, tutor, or teaching artist over the past 20+ years. In addition, Martha has hosted a child care podcast, Chronicles of Nannya, for several years. She is also the co-founder of Compassionate Childcare LLC and is thrilled to be able to share her experience, knowledge, and resources with CareNectar!