Stranger anxiety is a common expression of fear to unfamiliar adults in infants six months to two years old (Berk, 2013). In this paper, I will discuss my experience in holding and observing an infant who is unfamiliar with strangers along with my expectations and assumptions of my experience with her. This will include describing physical, cognitive, and psychosocial characteristics. I will also be integrating the course readings while discussing how this experience pertains to the readings.
Susie is a breast-fed healthy nine-month old chubby little girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and milky white skin. Being a breast-fed infant, Susie received a nutritious diet with the correct balance of fat and protein through her mother’s breast milk (Berk, 2013). As chubby babies with nutritious diets grow, they thin out as weight gain slows as they become more active (Berk, 2013).
Relating to Piaget’s stages of cognitive development, Susie displayed behaviors of the sensorimotor stage by using her eyes, ears, and hands as a way to think when she shook her toy rattle to make a sound (Berk, 2013). When she dropped food and looked for it on the floor, she showed object permanence by understanding the food still existed even though it was no longer in site (Baril & Corneal, 2010).
During my experience with Susie, I was able to observe a psychosocial characteristic of social referencing. Studies show a caregiver can influence an infant’s response to an unfamiliar situation by their emotional expression (Berk, 2013). Susie looked to her mother, Mary, for emotional information in an uncertain and new experience of being held by a stranger (Berk, 2013). She displayed this by consistently checking for approval and responding based on Mary’s
When Mary reassured Susie, it was ok to be held by a stranger her emotion was happiness and contentment. As I approached Susie, being held by her mother I could instantly see her reaction was to grab onto her mother tighter. She was hesitant to trust me, immediately began to cry and reach back towards her mother. Her reaction displayed she has a secure attachment to her mother. Susie used her mother as a secure base and when I separated her from Mary, she began to cry, preferring to be with her mother versus me – the stranger (Berk, 2013). I reacted to her hesitance by speaking to her in a soft, calm voice before I took her from her mother.
Although Susie displayed stranger anxiety by crying when I initially took her from her mother, by responding to her warmly and playfully she quickly showed positive and curious behavior and stopped crying (Berk, 2013). Referring to Thomas and Chess’s temperament classifications, Susie displayed the temperament of an easy child (Baril & Corneal, 2010). Overall, she was cheerful and adapted easily to the new experience of being held by a stranger.
After I took Susie from her mother, she cried. Mary responded by softly stroking Susie’s head and calmly telling her it was ok. Next, I walked into another room without Mary and Susie began to display separation anxiety by becoming more upset when her mother was gone (Berk, 2013). After being in another room without Mary, Susie was easily calmed. According to the four phases on how attachment develops, Susie displayed she was in the clear-cut phase by exhibiting separation anxiety when her mother was not in the same room (Berk, 2013).
Suggestions from Mary on how to soothe Susie made it easier to establish trust between Susie and me. She explained how much Susie loves food. With this information, I made the decision that offering Susie a snack would be the easiest way to gain her trust. According to Erickson’s theory, because Susie received a balance in care of sympathy and love from her parent, her understanding of basic trust versus mistrust is positive (Berk, 2013). Unlike a mistrustful infant who cannot depend on the kindness of others, Susie felt confident in exploring this new experience (Berk, 2013).
Prior to holding Susie, I assumed it would be difficult to take her from her mother, that she would cry and be extremely difficult to soothe. I based these assumptions of my prior knowledge that Susie has a strong secure attachment to her mother with minimal exposure to strangers. Similar to my knowledge of Susie having minimal exposure to strangers, I have experienced leaving my children with a caregiver that they were unfamiliar with. The experience of my children being distraught after leaving them strengthened my assumption that Susie would be upset and difficult to soothe.
My experience in holding Susie was different than what I expected. Based on my assumptions of Susie being a difficult infant, I expected to spend ten minutes of this experience trying to soothe a nine-month-old baby that is not familiar with strangers. I also expected to be reassuring her mother that Susie is fine while she cried. To my surprise, it was not difficult at all to soothe her and Mary was calm in allowing Susie to participate in a new experience. I was able to experience Susie display behaviors that I normally would have overlooked such as object permanence. I was also able to recognize the relationship between a parent and infant bringing to life the theories being discussed in the course reading such as secure attachment.
This experience both confirmed and altered my original assumption of Susie. Observing how she interacted with her mother confirmed my assumption that she had a strong secure attachment to Mary. However, my original assumption was altered when I learned she did not have a difficult temperament and was easily soothed. Also, because of my original assumptions of how this experience was going to be coupled with how Susie actually behaved, I learned that parents can use social referencing to teach infants how to respond to everyday events (Berk, 2013). Mary’s emotions and responses to Susie’s reactions to an unfamiliar situation aided in how easily she was soothed.
In conclusion, I learned through this experience that although an infant shows stranger anxiety and/or separation anxiety the level of anxiety and ability to soothe an infant depends on the current situation and the temperament of the infant (Berk, 2013).
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