Why won’t my baby stop clinging to me? The waxing and waning of stranger anxiety

Does your 6-to-12-month-old infant follow you around the room like a shadow, cry in the presence of unfamiliar people, and refuse to be comforted or held by anyone but you?  No worries!  This is a normal part of development.  As exhausting as this phase may be for you, it will pass, and your baby will learn how to trust others with some help from you.  Some levels of stranger anxiety are developmentally appropriate and will pass with time.  [Severe persistent negative reactions (hysterical crying, screaming, etc.) for long periods of time that you cannot console when an unfamiliar friend or family member approaches your baby are generally not typical, so please talk to your pediatrician for recommendations.] Stranger anxiety is different from separation anxiety: separation anxiety may show up slightly later in development, and is the result of the parent or primary caregiver leaving the room.  You may see your child expressing both of these anxieties if you leave her with a sitter or grandparent.  Again, both of these anxieties are completely normal, and are not typically a reflection of your parenting style.

Your infant is in the process of forming her attachment to you and learning how to safely explore her environment.  She needs your help as she learns how to master these skills.  Above all, consistently responsive, warm, and loving interactions with your baby will help her develop a secure attachment to you and reduce overall levels of stranger anxiety.  Your patience and understanding is instrumental in helping her learn how to interact with strangers and regulate her emotions in new situations.  Bringing a favorite toy to a situation with unfamiliar people can help your baby feel safer and comforted, and help her calm down more quickly.  Above all, it’s best if you can show that you are relaxed and happy in the situation.  Your baby takes cues from you on how she should react to many different situations, from when she trips and falls to interacting with new people.  Your calm and relaxed demeanor will help her regulate her anxiety and learn more from the situation.  Try to enjoy the time where she wants to be by your side; soon, she will be exercising new-found independence and may not want to cuddle as often!  Next thing you know, she will be getting ready for the prom.