Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Babies and strangers

Babies and the outside world  

Babies don't have much contact with the outside world during the first 2-3 months. Most of the time they seem to be listening to what their insides tell them. When they get the message that all is well, they are very peaceful. When the message is about hunger,or indigestion, or tiredness, they feel wholeheartedly wretched because there's nothing to distract them. It's an irritable period for some babies. One has colic, another has spells of irritable crying, a third always screams for a few minutes just before falling asleep.

As babies get beyond the 3-month period, they take alot more notice of the world around them. They turn their heads in all directions, all by themselves, and seem pleased with what they see.

How a baby feels about strangers

You can get an idea of how a baby goes from phase to phase in development, by watching the reaction to strangers at different ages. This is how it goes in a doctor's office for a typical baby, let's say a girl, until she's about a year old.

At 2 months she doesn't pay much attention to the doctor. As she lies on the examining table, she keeps looking over her shoulder at her mother. The 3-month-old is the doctor's delight. She breaks into a body-wiggling smile just as often as the doctor is willing to smile and make noises at her.

By about 5 months, the baby may have changed her mind. When the doctor approaches, she stops her kicking and cooing. Her body freezes, and she eyes him intently, suspiciously, maybe for 10 seconds. Then her abdomen begins to rise and fall rapidly. Finally her chin puckers, and she begins to shriek. She may get so worked up that she cries long after the examination is over. This is a sensitive period, when a baby may take alarm at anything unfamiliar, such as a visitor's hat or even her father's face, if he hasn't been able to be with her and take care of her. Probably the main cause of this behavior is that she is now smart enough to distinguish between friend and stranger. 

If your baby is sensitive about new people, new places, in the middle of the first year, I'd protect her from too much fright by making strangers keep a little distance until she gets used to them, especially in new places.

Some babies accept strangers in a fairly casual way until the end of the first year. But then, everything changes. I think 13 months is the most suspicious age of all. The typical baby at this age scrambles to her feet  when the doctor approaches, and tries to climb off the table and onto her parent. She cries furiously, buries her face in her parent's neck. Every once in a while she stops just long enough to peer over her shoulder at the doctor, with looks like daggers. She usually stops crying soon after the examination is over. A few minutes later she may be happily  exploring the office...

Get them used to outsiders

When he is around one year old, a baby's nature tells him to be suspicious of strangers till he has a chance to look them over. But then he wants to get closer and eventually make friends, in a 1-year-old fashion of course. 
Many adults don't have the sense to let a small child alone while  he sizes them up. They rush up to him, full of talk, and he has to retreat to his parent for protection. Then it takes longer for him to work up his courage to be friendly. I think it helps for a parent to remind a visitor in the beginning "Let's talk for a while, then he'll get used to new persons like you".

When babies are old enough to walk,  give them plenty of chances to get used to strangers and make up to them. If possible, take them every day where other small children play. They aren't able to play with the  others yet, but at times they want to watch. If they are used to playing near others now, they will be ready for cooperative play when the time comes, between 2 and 3. If they've never been around other children by 3, it will take them months just to get used to them.


Text source: Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care -Beanjamin Spock and Michael Rothenberg