Child's Fear of Strangers

Archived Q&A and Reviews


2.5 year old has been exhibiting a fear of strangers

Dec 2006

I thought I would see what people\x92s experiences are and what has worked. My 2.5-year-old girl has been exhibiting a fear of strangers for about the last three months. She has never been abused or traumatized, which people tend to immediately wonder. Although she has always been a little more reserved, or what some might label as \x93shy,\x94 compared to other children.

She is afraid of strangers and it is men more so than women. It seems to happen when she is not expecting a person to be there or when a person approaches her unexpectedly. It has also happened with people that we thought she remembered and trusted. Most of the time we can predict it, but it seems to be generalizing to more people and situations.

She will clamp her hands over her eyes or ears and wimper when she sees them. She will keep herself closed off for the entire time that person is around\x97even for hours if we are at an event. She has gone as far as crying, shaking, and sweating\x97but only a few times.

So far we have tried to comfort her without drawing too much attention to her. We tell her that the person is not scary and that she does not need to worry. We will hold her and allow her to bury herself in us if she wants to. We then carry on as usual. We have found that if we talk to her about it a lot or keep consoling her, it tends to make it worse. My gut feeling is that she really is worried, but that there comes a point where it is for attention. The people that we tried too hard with she will talk about a lot out of context, saying, \x93uncle Peter is scary.\x94

I would like to know what people with similar children have found works for them? I am also wondering how long it lasted? And, at what point should I consult a professional? Thank you. Katie

Re: 2.5 yr old is scared of everything
I wrote a very similar post the week before about my 2.5 year old daughter and did not get any responses. It was called, ''Stranger Anxiety In 2.5-Year-Old.'' I hope that we can get some responses, because I would love other advice too.

Overall the point is similar, there are certain people and or situations that make her uncomfortable or disturbed. She clamps her hands over her face and wimpers. She too frequently talks about how she is ''scared.'' Like you, my feeling is that some of it is a feat and some of it is for attention. What I have found works best is to simply aknowledge her fear in a matter of fact way. ''I see that you are worried.'' Then I reassure her that things will be okay and I continue on as usual. We try to act very casual and do not let her intensity affect us. I have found that if I pick her up or keep trying to sooth her, then it only makes things worse. That is why I think that some of it is for attention.

To answer your question, in my opinion there is nothing wrong with your little girl. Children go through so many changes and we as parents have to view these sort of things as temporary. I have an 8.5 year old daughter as well and all of her ''concering behaviors'' change so much and improve with time. It seems like the ones that I really worried about most got much worse before better.

In addition, I have read a little bit in a developmental psych book about the ''irrational fear stage,'' and it takes place during toddler years and sounds very similar to what you are noticing. Maybe you can look that term up. All in all, I can say that once I stopped giving my little one so much attention for her ''scary scenarios,'' they have definetly lightened up.

Today we are going to visit a Santa and I just assume she will stay as far away as possible while her sister goes to collect her gift. And, so be it! Best to you! Another ''scared'' tot!

3-year-old is afraid of strangers coming to our house

May 2004

Our 3 year old has always had a bit of fear of strangers or even of acquaintances (especially men) coming into our house. As far as I know, he's never had an abusive experience, and he's almost always with us so I think i would know. Lately he's gotten fairly rude about it. We came down hard (told him he would get a timeout and we would be mad) that he isn't allowed to scream at people or hit them or shout ''no'' and he stopped. He still tries to quietly say ''no'' to me while they are present (which I am currently ignoring and telling him that I will only pay attention to friendliness), but is basically quiet but extremely tense when strangers or acquaintances (anyone not very close friends/family) are present. My question is: should I try to get him to say hello if spoken to and to be friendly or is not being overtly antagonistic enough? By the way, occasionally, if he is in the mood, especially if they are lowkey with him, he will be very friendly and outgoing with new folks or acquaintances--just not consistently.

If anyone has any general suggestions I would be happy to hear them! This is a boy who generally fears the unknown (slides, dogs, new places, new people, new foods) and we have tried to encourage him but not force him but it doesn't seem to help much. muminmama

Have you considered trying a very different approach than you currently are -- that is, sympathizing with his fears? One thing I find AMAZINGLY helpful with my three-year-old is when I have a little talk with him in which I say things like ''Are you (sad/mad/ scared)?'' He will often say yes, and I will then ask him about the reason he is feeling that way (''Do people you don't know make you nervous?''), and sympathize in some way if I can (''Yes, I'm sometimes scared of strangers'' or maybe ''Yes, some people are scared of strangers sometimes'' -- this statement has to be honest). I got my little guy through an extremely bumpy, scary boat ride pretty calmly this way -- and he started out screaming in terror. The more I push and punish him for his feelings, the stronger they get. The more I sympathize and validate them, the less trouble he has coping. Karen