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My toddler is afraid of crowds
Q: My 17-month-old son is afraid of being in big crowds or of people just walking up to him to say, “hi” or try to play. If it's someone he doesn't know much he will throw a tantrum and scream until I or someone he knows really well (his grandparents) picks him up. He also goes up to kids and bites them and laughs. I don't know why he does this. He also throws temper tantrums when he doesn't get what he wants, or he'll just hit you. Please help me find a way to stop this.
A: The two problems you mention probably stem from different causes, and they merit different types of handling. Screaming when a person he doesn’t know gets too close even has a name. It is called stranger anxiety. It means that he has developed a firm attachment to you and other people he knows well (like his grandparents) and he doesn’t want to be handled by anyone who isn’t in that special circle. I wouldn’t worry about it at all. If a friend is offended, simply comment, “He’s that way around anybody he doesn’t know well.”

The tantrums and hitting are different from stranger anxiety, and both respond to the same type of parental treatment. They are perfect examples of the type of behaviour handled quite well by time-outs. Furthermore, your son is at just the age where this technique works best.

If the tantrum occurs in a room of your house where you can safely leave him and walk out, do so, saying something like “I’m out of here till you calm down.” If it happens when he is in a room where he could either hurt himself or damage something of value, scoop him up in your arms in a way that pins his arms to his (or your) side, carry him to the time-out area and say, “You will stay here until you calm down.” If it happens in the grocery store when your cart is half-full and you haven’t checked out, park your cart at the door and tell a clerk that you’ll be back. Then take him to your car and fasten him in his seat. When he stops screaming, say matter-of-factly, “Let’s go finish our shopping.” If you have the cool to manage it, call a friend on your cell phone while he fusses. In all of these settings, resist the temptation to lecture or ask why he got upset; he’s too young to give you a meaningful answer. One final suggestion: If, as you try any of these procedures, he hits or tries to hit you, pin his arms to his side and say firmly in his face, “You may not ever hit me.”

This kind of discipline usually works very well with tantrums and early aggressive behaviour. Discuss it with his dad and make certain that the two of you are consistent.