Q: My baby gets scared when she meets new family members. What can I do?
A: This can make family gatherings a bit uncomfortable, but trust that this behavior is totally normal, especially for babies older than 6 months, who may get fussy and upset around people they don't know (it's called stranger anxiety). Plus, it's common for young children to have weird responses to new people based on appearances -- they may react to the sound of a person's voice, for example, his or her height, or a facial feature like a big beard. To prepare for your next visit, show your baby photos of all her family members, including the new person she'll be meeting, and use an upbeat and warm tone of voice as you describe the photos.Next time you visit a relative your baby fears, engage your daughter by playing one of her favorite games. Then slowly involve the relative. First, have him simply watch from close by. Next, start talking with him. Young children carefully read the cues of their trusted caregivers to figure out if a new person or place is good and safe. Include Uncle Steve in activities, such as building a tower. Ask him to hand you a block, then tell him to put a block on the tower himself. You can also suggest that he try offering your daughter one of her favorite toys or books to read together. Getting to know a family member in this sensitive and incremental way should help her learn to feel comfortable with him fairly quickly.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2006. Updated 2009