The beginning of fear

If Baby is born in the late summer or early fall, there’s a good chance there isn’t going to be much of anything about their first Halloween that’s going to spook them. Not because they are stone-cold hard to scare, but because until Baby is somewhere between 7 and 9 months old, they may get startled, but their understanding of the world hasn’t developed to the point of real fear.

Before they start to develop fear, Baby can still feel unhappy, and probably has no problems telling you all about that unhappiness, even though they are still a little short of having the words for it. Somewhere in the 7 to 9 months range, though, a few things start to change for Baby. They doesn’t start to feel fear all at once, and while everyone develops different fears as they get older, during young childhood there are fears that tend to come with different developmental stages.

Stranger danger

A baby’s first fear is generally a fear or anxiety of strangers, which develops around 6 or 7 months old as they develop the understanding of the differences between their parents and everybody else. The combination of stranger anxiety and object permanence can lead to separation anxiety, and can make leaving Baby with a caregiver, or even just socializing with people who are familiar to them but aren’t their immediate family, more difficult.

Luckily, this phase does pass, though it can be as short as a few months, or can last up until Baby is approaching their second birthday. The best way to handle it is to reassure Baby that while you may leave them, you’ll be coming back. You can do this both by talking to them from the other room as you leave them in a different part of the house, and by telling them where you’re going and when you’ll be back when leaving them for longer periods of time, and then following through on that promise. The best way to handle their stranger anxiety is to let them get to know themself the people who make them nervous slowly, quietly, and preferably from the safety of your arms. You can explain to friends or relatives who Baby never had a problem with before that it’s nothing personal, and that they will probably readjust to them quickly, especially if they don’t force it.

Teach by example

Another way to help Baby feel at ease in social situations is just by being comfortable yourself. Babies pick up on many fears from their caregivers, and facial expressions are one of the biggest giveaways you have. Baby has been able to mirror faces back at you since shortly after birth, and since that time, this mirroring has developed into social referencing, which means Baby looking to their parents or primary caregiver for cues about how to react to a situation. This means that if you’re nervous walking into a party, Baby will probably be nervous, too, and will have a harder time opening up to the new people they meet.

Because of this kind of unconscious communication, very young children are in a perfect position to inherit their parents’ fears. This isn’t always bad, since fear can be an important tool to keep Baby safe from dangerous situations, but it can backfire if they start picking up on any less rational fears you might have.

Such great heights

When babies first learn to crawl, they can crawl themselves into some dangerous situations, like almost off of changing tables, beds, or any unattended stairs, because they haven’t yet developed a fear of heights. Babies develop depth perception sometime around 3 or 4 months old, but don’t develop the fear of what that depth and height could do until they start crawling, scooting, or otherwise moving themselves around. When babies are carried, they don’t tend to pay much attention to what’s going on in their peripheral vision, so it isn’t until they start moving on their own that they start to register the way the world around them seems to be moving ‘backwards’ as they move forward, which seems to trigger their first fear of falling.

Baby’s fears aren’t themselves developmental processes, but they are triggered by them. The more Baby understands about the world, the better they will understand its dangers, so their growing fears are signs of their involvement and interest in the world around them.

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