Depending on your child's age, introducing new people and bringing new caregivers to interact with your child may seem challenging.
You may witness a range of different behaviors, the most common in my experience being: becoming super shy, crying, running away from a new person, and having a preference to use a safe space. It’s important to note that none of these reactions are unusual or concerning. During your child’s first year the amount of mental development they are undergoing is incredible, and during the first five years they are growing at a speed we can only be amazed by.
Naturally, this can make some parts of their childhood a little bit more challenging for everyone involved!
Let's talk about the most challenging developmental stage to introduce new people during - separation anxiety. Separation anxiety starts around 7-8 months old and can last up to three years. This occurs because it is the time when your child’s brain learns about object permanence. In simple words, they are starting to understand that you exist even if they can’t see you. This developmental stage is therefore challenging because of a few reasons:
They want to be with you instead of other people because they know and feel safe with you.
Their brain works really hard on understanding this new concept which can make them feel unsure about new and unfamiliar people, places or things.
They can’t tell or understand time! 5 minutes feels the same as 1 hour, so they never know when you will be back.
HOW TO INTRODUCE NEW PEOPLE?
I want to start by saying that not every method will work for every child and every family, so you need to find a way to introduce new people in a way that feels good for everyone. If you want to discuss your own unique situation, don’t hesitate to contact me directly for a consultation.
Taking a step back and understanding your child's developmental stage as well as their personality is key to understanding how they may react to a new person. By knowing how they may react, you as a parent can choose the environment in which the introduction takes place, at what time of the day, and the length of any interaction. This allows you to be in control of the situation and means you can plan and be prepared for any kind of outcome, and not stress about it.
To successfully prepare your child to meet a new person, talk about it! Who are they? Why are you meeting them? Where will the meeting take place? How long will it last? You can talk about every little detail. The more they know, the better they are prepared.
The better they are prepared the smoother the meeting will go because they will know what to expect. You can start this process with a tiny baby and even when your kids are old enough to handle meeting new people without the preparation period, as it not only helps them understand what’s happening (or simply be soothed by your voice) but can also help you quickly sound out the plan to reduce any niggling worries.
You as a parent can also talk to the person who is being introduced about what they can expect to advocate for your child. Consider a quick explainer around your child's personality and any past experiences of meeting new people to an introduction to their favorite things and how they can start creating a bond. This will give them the advantage to be curious about your child and try creating an initial connection on topics your child is actively interested in and engaged by.
TIME AND REPETITION
Don’t expect a strong bond to happen during the first meeting - it can take time! One meeting may be great and you feel like everything is going in the right direction and the next meeting your child may not want to participate. Repetition is a powerful tool at this point.
Repetition allows children to get familiar with and comfortable around any new people. Kids - and it doesn’t matter their age - love repetition because it creates safety and well-known situations.
Depending on your child’s age there may be only one thing to plan, like how soon after a nap the meeting should happen. Or there can be multiple things to plan, like a place - home or park; time - morning before the nap or afternoon after nap; feeding - will your child be eating before, after, or during. For us, adults, those aren’t important factors but for a child, these elements can really impact a first meeting.
MY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR INTRODUCING NEW PEOPLE
As a Newborn Care Specialist, Pediatric Sleep Consultant, and former private nanny I recommend:
Make sure your child is well-rested - tiredness affects kids really strongly. They get unhappy, frustrated, and big emotions are more commonly present. Adding a new person to the environment won’t calm them down and tends to make them more disgruntled.
Choose a neutral space. Pick a place your child - depending on the age - has the freedom to choose if they want to participate in the meeting or not. That is their choice and you can’t force them to create a bond if they don’t want to. Giving them the space allows them to be in control of how close and involved they want to be.
Prepare them for the meeting and talk to them about the upcoming meeting. Make sure any questions they have are answered. Give them all the information you feel is important and they should know.
Be prepared to be your child’s safe space, to be their voice and ask the questions they are too shy to ask. You may be the person who will lead the conversation and invite them to get to know the new person. You may even be holding them for the whole duration of the meeting because they feel safe with you and unsure about the whole situation.
Your child is unique and one of a kind. We don’t know how they will feel about each and every new person they are meeting. One thing we can do is to set them up for success. With time, patience, and a healthy relationship your child will become confident and nothing will stop them!
This guest blog is from Magdalena at Cradle & Crescent - newborn care specialist and pediatric sleep consultant, dedicated to helping parents make informed decisions for their family. Based in Colarado, you can contact Madga via email@example.com or submit a form with your family's requirements here.