Most babies show some variant of "stranger anxiety." While this is an entirely normal response, it can cause anguish for parents (and discomfort for new teachers). Try to remember that because you have nurtured your baby in responsive ways, you have helped her develop a loving secure attachment to you. Bravo! But now that she knows that you can be trusted to come and soothe her upsets, she can be very puzzled and even in a panic to find another person trying to fill your special role. Rejoice that your baby knows you and that she is smart enough to recognize the difference between one caring person and another. This shows that she can make excellent perceptual discriminations based on voice tones and facial differences.
Introducing a New Face
Try to stay with your baby for a while when you are introducing her to a new teacher. Put her on the floor and try to interest her in some new toys to reach for or bang on before you tenderly kiss her head and tell her you will be seeing her later. Suggest to your care provider that during the early weeks she hold your baby firmly up to her shoulder and murmur reassuringly as she walks about the room with her. Let her hold your infant so their cheeks are touching securely — she'll get used to the feeling of the teacher's skin, scent, and the sound of her soothing, cheerful voice if she is held closely.
Suggest that the teacher hold your baby so that she is looking outward and is not forced to look directly at her, as she would be if the caregiver had her lying in her lap. The teacher can then direct your baby's attention to something interesting. As your baby gets interested in the object, he may "forget" to be scared of the stranger. Good ways to entice a baby are:
- Encourage her to touch a squeezable toy, pet a toy doggie's fake fur, or gently squeeze a colorful ball that squeaks.
- Roll a big ball back and forth for your baby to watch and to bat at. She may want to it back and forth too.
- Point out cheerful pictures of baby animals (good ones include a bird, a dog, a pony, a lamb, a piggie, or a fish).
Encourage the new teacher to walk around the room with your baby and point out all the interesting objects. She should speak slowly and pause to give your baby time to digest each object before moving on to the next one.
Your baby will gradually learn to include a wider circle of caring adults among those with whom she feels comfortable and responds to in a friendly, accepting manner. All this takes is time — and lots of positive experiences.
Tips From Teachers
Try these classroom-tested strategies for helping your baby overcome her fear of a new teacher.
- Be sure to bring along your baby's special "lovey," whether a favorite blanket (endowed with homey and familiar smells!) or soft cuddly animal.
- If your baby needs a special lullaby to drift into sleep, make a copy of the melody and words for the teacher.
- Ask the teacher to hold your baby a lot during the first days.
- Act very warm and friendly to the teacher as you hand over your baby. Research shows that babies notice when their parent and the teacher are caring towards one another — and that this helps babies adjust more easily to the new person.