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 your baby when she 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 your baby that often. And while she may have been pretty calm about being passed around to people she didn't know when she was younger, by the time stranger anxiety kicks in, often some time around 6 months or a little after, she may throw a fit if you so much as pass her over into the arms of an auntie she hasn’t seen in awhile.
This situation can be hard for your baby, who is only crying because she 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 your 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.
So maybe your baby hasn’t seen your in-laws for a few months, or your sister was out of the country when your baby was born, but that doesn’t mean her first introduction to these soon-to-be-beloved relatives needs to be when these people race up the driveway and yank your baby into their loving arms.
If your baby has met this friend or family member before, talk to her about that visit. This works best with older babies, but no matter how young your little one is, she is always building her understanding of language, and you never know when introducing her 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.
If you’ve noticed that your baby has moved into this stage, where she is nervous around new people, letting your friends or family know ahead of time that she 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.
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. your 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 your baby gives this familiarity some time to build.