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Fear of Strangers in Toddlerhood

Resource Type

Parent Handouts and Info - Parent


Discusses common fear of strangers during the toddler years, as well as strategies for dealing with stranger anxiety, including not pushing or teasing, introducing toddler to new experiences gradually, managing parents' own anxiety regarding separation, etc.


All Ages

Age Groups

Infancy (<1), Toddlerhood (1-3)

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Fear of Strangers in Toddlerhood (Adapted from Healthy Steps)

Fear of Strangers in Toddlerhood (Adapted from Healthy Steps)

Fear of strangers or "stranger suspicion" is very common during the toddler years. Toddlers are attached to familiar caregivers in their lives and feel safest with them. Toddlers are now capable of more complex thoughts and fears, which can be shown by their avoiding adults. Sometimes they even suddenly avoid relatives they have known for a long time- hurting their feelings! Toddlers can also be scared of adults because they can be very annoying! Adults can come too close and invade a toddler's personal space with pinches to cheeks, kisses, and tickles. So, although your child's fear of strangers can be upsetting, it's a normal and understandable response. Most often, children "grow out" of this phase.

  • Don't push. Respect your toddler's fears and don't force your toddler to interact with adults, especially with hugs and kisses. This is also part of teaching the body respect that can protect against sexual abuse and going too far on dates later.
  • Comfort your toddler. Hold hands, hug, and be reassuring. Help your child feel safe.
  • Don't tease. Making fun of your toddler because she is afraid will make her feel ashamed. Remember, toddler fears are normal; she is not being "a baby."
  • Give your toddler experiences out in the world. Seeing people while you are with them may help your toddler get used to being around a variety of people.
  • Talk about who your child is going to see beforehand. Tell your child something interesting or fun about that person to make them interested such as "Did you know she has a dog the same color as ours?"
  • Introduce a new person gradually. If you have a new person spending time with your child, like a babysitter, let your toddler visit with that person a few times with you there for comfort.
  • Explain your toddler's fears to grandparents. Visiting family naturally want to kiss and hug their grandchild, whom they may not have seen for a while. Reassure them that if they "take it slow" and don't push themselves on the child, then their grandchild will have the time to get reacquainted with them. Sometimes having the adult ignore the child until he or she comes up to the adult is the best.
  • Keep your own anxiety to yourself. If you are a shy person you may be passing this on to your child, plus they may have inherited this tendency. After reassuring your child, you may do better to leave them quickly if you can't control your own emotions. You can always call in a few minutes to be sure they have adjusted.
  • Trust your toddler. If your toddler really protests or becomes unusually upset when in the company of a specific adult, she may really feel threatened and unsafe. Is this a person that should have contact with your child? Consider whether something scary happened with this person or someone they resemble that you need to do something about.

Adapted from Healthy Steps. Edited and Compiled by the Center for Promotion of Child Development Through Primary Care 2011

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