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Getting Comfortable With Strangers

Your cousin, who adores your baby, tries to pick him up and cuddle him. But the minute she does, his face crumples and he screams bloody murder. The reason: Stranger anxiety has set in.

"At four to six months, most babies begin to develop a preference for those who care for them on a daily basis," says Stefanie Powers, a child-development specialist at Zero to Three, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the healthy development of infants and toddlers.

While it may be vexing to have your baby refuse the affections of others  -- especially those he's happily gone to before  -- stranger anxiety is actually a good sign. It shows that he's becoming more socially mature and learning to trust the people he's closest to.

Pushing him to interact will only make things worse. Instead:

  • Allow your baby to sit on your lap, or at least near you, when you're in the company of less familiar folks. He'll feel much more secure and be more likely to accept attention from them.

  • Take it slow. Suggest that friends and family avoid trying to hug him or pick him up right away. Instead, ask them to talk to him quietly or show him a toy while he's safely on your lap. Eventually, he may warm up enough to let them hold him.

  • Introduce him to caregivers. If you need to leave him with someone new, spend some time with the two of them before you leave so that they can get acquainted in your presence.

  • Don't sneak away. Even if your baby seems involved with a new person, say goodbye; don't let the prospect of tears stop you. Otherwise, he'll feel he can't depend on you and is likely to become more clingy.

  • Let it pass. Stranger anxiety comes and goes at different times for different kids, usually peaking at around 18 months. If you let your baby set his own pace now and give him the added security he needs, he'll likely emerge a trusting toddler who can meet new people confidently.
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