Babies thrive on familiarity – they love the people they see everyday. So it can seem strange to think that your and your partner’s extended families, who might be some of the most important people in your lives, may seem like complete and possibly unfriendly strangers to Baby when he first meets them.
Unless you happen to live in the same neighborhood as your extended family, there’s a good chance they won’t have the chance to see Baby that often. And while he may have been pretty calm about being passed around to people he didn’t know when he was younger, by the time stranger anxiety kicks in, often some time around 6 months or a little after, he may throw a fit if you so much as pass him over into the arms of an auntie he hasn’t seen in awhile.
This situation can be hard for Baby, who is only crying because he feels upset, overwhelmed, or afraid, and it can be hard on your family and close friends, as well. They love you and your partner and want to get to know your new family, and an upset reaction from Baby can hurt, especially if they’re not used to babies, and aren’t expecting it. Parts of this stage are unavoidable, but there are definitely things you can do to ease the transition.
Help Baby study
So maybe Baby hasn’t seen your in-laws for a few months, or your sister was out of the country when Baby was born, but that doesn’t mean his first introduction to these soon-to-be-beloved relatives needs to be when these people race up the driveway and yank Baby into their loving arms.
If Baby has met this friend or family member before, talk to him about that visit. This works best with older babies, but no matter how young your little one is, he is always building his understanding of language, and you never know when introducing his newest friend with a familiar name might help ease the introduction. More than that, talking to babies and young children about their lives and recent pasts is proven to help build stronger, earlier memories.
There are other ways to introduce friends and relatives before they actually arrive on the scene, too – pictures, phone calls, and video chatting may not be a cure-all for stranger anxiety, but they might help the people they’re about to be introduced to feel a little bit less like strangers.
Give friends and family a heads-up
If you’ve noticed that Baby has moved into this stage, where he is nervous around new people, letting your friends or family know ahead of time that he might be a little shy with them at first can help ward off hurt feelings. It’s one thing to hear that a baby is nervous with new people, and might need a little time to warm up to you. It’s another for your best friend’s child to start sobbing at the sight of you.
Take it slow
Some babies’ stranger anxiety really does get set off just at the sight of the ‘stranger,’ but many others are willing to be warily calm around new arrivals as long as it’s from the safety of a parent’s arms. Baby may be perfectly willing to spend enough time with a new friend or family member this way, before getting to a more comfortable point. Having the new arrival wait a while before babysitting, or even holding Baby gives this familiarity some time to build.