Stranger Anxiety–It’s More than Just Shyness

Stranger Anxiety–It’s More than Just Shyness

At 6-9 months, you might notice a new type of reaction from your formerly outgoing baby. When an unfamiliar adult approaches or speaks to him, he may move toward you, turn to put his face in your shoulder, or tighten his grip on your body.1,2 Showing a growing fear of strangers is actually a sign that your baby is developing his Attachment and Trust skills.

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Stranger anxiety is completely normal for your baby at this age and shows his emotional development and healthy attachment to his primary caregivers. While he was perfectly fine playing with or being held by family and friends as a young infant, he may start fussing and crying because he now understands the difference between you and unfamiliar people. Even though it can be frustrating, rest assured, knowing that this is just his way of saying he prefers you!3 And don’t worry, while stranger anxiety typically begins around 8 months of age, it usually resolves by the time he reaches 18 months old.4

Because your baby is becoming more mobile and curious about the world around him, he will want to venture out and explore his environment a bit. “Stranger anxiety is part of a child’s normal development”4 and makes him want to stay with what is safe and familiar. It is a natural defense mechanism that will help reduce the chances that your young infant will crawl off alone and feel safe with a potentially dangerous person. During this phase (and it is a phase!), even familiar adults may be treated with some distrust or coldness if there has been a long enough period of separation.5,6 If this is the case and your baby appears shy around his grandparents during the holidays, let them know that he probably just needs a little time to get familiar with them again.

It is also worth noting that your baby will further develop his Self-Concept skills during this time. He will become increasingly aware that he is a person, separate from you, with his own agenda. As such, he may begin to communicate his needs in specific ways, like pointing to a toy he wants or reaching up to be held.1 Because his agenda is probably different from yours, you may find him getting upset and starting to fuss when his needs are not met as quickly as he would like. While you may get frustrated with his impatience and fussiness, note that these behaviors are normal for your 6-9 month old and are an indication of his growing sense of self-worth and will.

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Play Tips:

Do you want to know how you can support your baby’s development of these Attachment and Trust and Self-Concept skills at this age? It’s easy! Read on for some simple tips to incorporate into your daily play time together.

  1. Gradually introduce your baby to new people and caregivers.2 Give him many opportunities to meet new people so that he will get used to being around unfamiliar people. The more positive experiences he has with strangers and less familiar caregivers, the more secure he will feel about his own ability to get his needs met and the less concerned he will be about you leaving. Don’t force your baby to interact with strangers and new caregivers right away. Instead, talk to him reassuringly and introduce him to the stranger slowly. Spend several minutes interacting all together so that he may adjust to the new person. Then let him interact with the stranger on his own terms.
  2. Allow your baby to watch your interactions with strangers. As you hold him close, have a nice and pleasant conversation with an unfamiliar person and let your baby watch how you act in this new situation. Eventually, he may open up to the new person as he comes to understand that the stranger is actually friendly and safe to be with.
  3. Tell new caregivers about your baby’s likes and dislikes. When you introduce your baby to a new sitter or nanny, be sure to let the caregiver know about his preferences, being specific about how to respond to his different needs. The sooner you can help your caregiver respond to your baby’s needs, the quicker they will be able to bond and form a caring attachment.
  4. Create opportunities for your baby to interact with other children.2 Often times, stranger anxiety is short lived or non-existent when a baby is exposed to other children. Children seem to be less of a threat and are more interesting to other young children than new adults. Playing around other children is a wonderful way for your baby to meet new people without triggering extreme stranger anxiety.

Developmental Milestones:

Has your baby achieved the following Attachment and Trust and Self-Concept developmental milestones yet? If yes, check off all the skill(s) he has already mastered to date using Playful Bee’s developmental milestones tracker. It’s absolutely FREE and easy to use, just click HERE!

  • Exhibits some separation and stranger anxiety.


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1Delaware Department of Education (2010). Delaware Early Learning Foundations: Infant/Toddler.

2Maryland State Department of Education (2010). Healthy Beginnings: Supporting Development and Learning from Birth through Three Years of Age.

3WebMD (2013). Your Baby’s Stranger Anxiety. WebMD. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

4Office of Child Development. You and Your Foster Child: Stranger Anxiety. University of Pittsburgh, Office of Child Development. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

5Greene, Alan (2013). Separation Anxiety A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention. Dr. Greene. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from

6West, Kim. Stranger Anxiety in Babies. The Sleep Lady. Retrieved February 11, 2014, from


Playful Bee

Education Team at Playful Bee
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