Stranger Anxiety & Can't Play Independently

Updated on July 31, 2011
J.S. asks from Brooklyn, NY
6 answers

My 19 mo old DD has developed a pretty severe separation anxiety/ stranger anxiety starting around 1 year mark to now. She used to be way more social with other people and kids in particular also. I hear my other mom friends talking about their toddlers taking swim lessons and staying with a babysitter and I can't even imagine what that woud be like b/c my DD would NEVER allow another person besides Mommy/daddy/grandparents to even touch her. DH and I are home together most days b/c I work part time from home mostly and he's a freelancer. So we are always together but we make every effort to have her see many people every day. She goes to playgroup 1 X a wk, playground whenever weather permits, kids parties, beach, etc etc. But lately when I take her around other kids like a sing-a-long for toddlers, she clings to my legs and hides her face in my lap. Will not join the other kids in dancing/singing/playing. She just hides and won't let go of me. I took her to a toddler bday party few days ago and I needed to get something out of a bag in the other room. I left her with my friends and their babies for 1 minute and she got hysterical immediately, screaming, and crying til I got back. She cannot be away from me for 1 min even in our own house- if someone else is there- I have to stay in same room at all times or she'll have a fit. She also rarely can play independently. If I want to just do some dishes or need to go in another room, she will follow me. I put out crayons, toys, books etc sometimes get her set up so I can return an email for a few minutes and she will come to my where I"m sitting at computer and cling on my leg and whine. I'm in the same room even! She needs constant attention - the only break we get is when she's asleep. We give her so much attention all the time, I don't know why she doesn't feel more secure to play on her own or play with others or let someone else watch or hold her. It's really frustrating. I'm picturing NEVER being able to put her in daycare or get some swim lessons or have a night off with my hubby and get a babysitter. Is this a phase? It's been going on for almost 10 mo's now.

1 mom found this helpful

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thanks for all your great responses. I think I may have come off the wrong way. I do consider myself an "attachment" parent. I did do a very gentle cio menthod for a very short period of time when my DD was awaking about 6 X's a night and we were all getting no sleep and all miserable. Also we co-slept for first 6 mo's then after DD wouldn't do it. We give her so much of our attention all the time, I'm just concerned that a once very social child among others is now the complete opposite is all. I do feel better reading your repsonses that it's a phase and I always knew that deep inside. I remember being an extremely shy toddler / young child and how painful it was for me....I just don't want her to feel the same. but again I think I'm overly concerned. She'll come around eventually to others and it's almost time for daycare and that should help her to feel more comfortable. thanks everyone!

More Answers



answers from New York on

Kids are all different - some kids will go off and play with other kids and not even notice if their parents are still there - while others are crying every monring of kindergarten for the first month or two.

Your daughter is still a baby - she's not yet 2! I can completely understand taht she wants to be with mom - and I think it's fine and perfectly within the normal range.

When I grew up in the 60's kids didn't go to pre-school or daycare - we were home with our mom and siblings every day. It was a good day if we went to the park - most moms didn't have cars! I was a ver yshy kid - I was terrified of the neighborhood teenage boys - no idea why - but the poor kids began taking the long way home to avoid having me get hysterical in the front yard! Now I can assure you I'm perfectly social, not shy at all and grew up very normally. ;o)

Give her some time, make sure she knows you'll always come back for her, you'll never leave her, etc. She'll get past this stage eventually - maybe next month maybe in a year.... but she will.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

Kids are all different. You gotta work with what you've been dealt.
At 19 mos--swim lessons and playgroups aren't all that important. And my 8 yo 'barely' plays independently!
She's craving security. Give it to her.
Is there a grandparent that might be able to work with you & she in very small steps? 15 minutes away, then half an hour? That might be a start.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from New York on

You are completely describing my son at that age. Today, at just-turned-5, he has virtually no separation issues at all. He's still somewhat shy/reserved when he first meets someone, but he has wonderful friendships with kids his own age. In terms of independent play, there are definitely times when he demands my complete attention/involvement, but he can also play or read on his own for about an hour at a time -- less than some kids his age, but well within the range of normal. And, unbelievably, he's finally learning to swim, and he loves it. He just had a semi-sleepover with his two best friends, while we parents all went out for dinner/drinks. He's not a perfect child -- far from it -- he can definitely be oversensitive, and maddeningly goofy when he's trying to avoid something. But he's sweet, thoughtful, bright/gifted, and more to the point, he's FINE.

Along the way, I think, I did a whole lot of things wrong and a few things right. Brief summary below.

What did I do wrong? Doubt my son. Worry endlessly about disorders he might have. Sign him up for a preschool that was too noisy/chaotic and not structured enough. Worry more. Obsess about disorders, etc. Stress out to no end. Worry. Freak out. (You get the picture?)

What did I do right? Switch my son to a Montessori preschool where things were very calm and structured (and which was way out of our price range, but that's another story -- we almost went bankrupt paying for this, and I swear it was worth it). *Listen* when the new preschool teacher told me that "normal" is very diverse at this age. Watch my son's diet and keep him off all dairy, which can exacerbate anxiety in young kids. Accept that my son is shy and cop a serious attitude when anyone suggests that shyness is a bad thing. And yet, seek out parents with quiet, thoughtful kids (and face up to my own shyness in doing so) and schedule playdates -- in other words, stage-manage friendships for a bit.

In short, your daughter sounds like she has a shy, sensitive temperament. She will probably grow up to be a shy, sensitive, thoughtful, introspective, insightful adult -- a wonderful person, in short. But she'll never be somebody she's not. It's totally normal (and if you're me, inevitable) to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, but I recommend accepting that your daughter's anxiety threshold is where it is right now, and trying to help her take baby steps. If she can handle daddy and grandparents, can you leave her with one of them for half an hour at a time? Can you fit one social thing into your week (say, an hour of Mommy & Me) so she stops associating the presence of other children with the prospect of your departure?

Okay, I'm babbling endlessly here. I clearly have an investment in this distinct (and wonderful, I swear) personality type. Send me a message if you have specific questions or concerns.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

She's only 19 months old!

She's a baby. Allow her time to develop. There is nothing wrong with her. If at 5, she's still like this, then that is her personality, and you have to allow her to have it. If she's actually a shy kid, you can, over time, gently push her to try things.

But at 19 months, that's completely normal. And Miranda O. has the perfect advice for you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Rochester on

My son would not allow ANYONE to take care of him (including Dada) until just recently, and at that, the experience with one sitter was not very fun at the end of the evening (I was UPSTAIRS and she wouldn't allow him to see me - closed the door).

THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL. it's a safety/hereditary/life moving THING that all humans have - and to force a child to go beyond it could be and has been damaging.

All children want to be held by their parent. it's NORMAL.

Cater to her (as my friend puts it, so I put it so others will understand). IT DOES NOT LAST FOREVER. Carry her. Get a carrier if you can. You can make a sling out of almost any length of fabric. has videos and ideas for this to try to make it work for you. SHE DOES IT FREE! Other places make you pay - you don't have to buy that $200+ item to get your baby on your tummy.

She is experiencing something very UNCOMFORTABLE when she is not with you. and she will learn CONFIDENCE by you carrying her. Even Dad carrying her can be a source of comfort for her eventually.

You can force the issue. She will not be happy. And if you go to attachment parenting international, they have the RESEARCH that shows that children who are left to cry (and this includes crying it out at night) are and can be brain damaged. The baby's brain gets to a point where damage is done by so much crying! The results are horrible.

Your child is given to you for you to nurture - at their level, not yours (and please don't take this as an attack on whatever you do - I certainly am NOT THERE with you). you have to get beyond 'I need this time to myself'. Because your baby needs you. And being taught that a baby ahs to be able to self-soothe is just wrong, and being taught that a baby has to be socially independent and accepting of strangers, is just wrong.

Put her on your back to do dishes. Put her on your tummy to play with siblings.

But I can't bring myself to say: Or ignore her and see how she grows up and copes with life. Because it is just heartbreaking how many times I see how children react to this.

Good luck,

PS: It truly does not last forever. My son is really one of the most outgoing little personalities I've ever met, and he continually amazes me. Once he gets tired, has a growth spurt, or at one point, teething, he would totally reverse. And I just went with it. and it was hard. and it was heartbreaking. and he survived, and so did I.



answers from New York on

I am not there as yet, our little one is only 10 months, and doesn't seem to mind strangers (hopefully things stay that way). in any event, I do remember reading about this in the what to expect series. they suggest trying peek-a-boo, or hide and seek to make your disappearance (to the other side of the room (smal steps here)) something fun and that your little one can look forward to. take a look at the book or the webpage, i am sure they will have more to offer on sep. anxiety.

good luck.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions