My daughter is very attached to my wife. She's good with me (dad) and was okay with her grandparents. But lately she cries when she meets new people and keeps her eyes closed for hours. She either cries or sucks her thumb and needs to be attached to her mom. We thought she was pretending to sleep when she first exhibited this behavior. We are a little worried because she will walk towards her mom with her eyes closed and has run into things. Any ideas of what may be wrong?
She is probably very shy or sensitive. Most young kids when shy, go to the person they are most comfortable with, in this case your wife. Keeping her eyes closed is a way of not being able to see other people, especially if they are strangers and she is not comfortable looking or being around them. Therefore she closes her eyes and goes straight to her mother :).
Nothing is wrong with being shy, she just needs some time to learn how to start openinging up and being more confident with strangers.
I may be wrong, but I’m thinking your little one was born during the pandemic when even her birth was very isolated. Unlike those before her who had dad in the delivery room and all the grandparents, aunts and uncles waiting to meet her, her entrance was very sterile and she was not exposed to a lot of family members and friends of family. My granddaughter just turned 2 and she hid her face when anyone other than mom, dad and her big brother was around. As the restrictions have loosened and she is more exposed to a somewhat normal social life, she is more comfortable around new faces. Not that she approaches strangers or even welcomes strangers, but she no longer pulls a hoodie over her face or sits in a safe spot with her head down and her eyes closed. Children also get their cues from mom and dad and the vibe they give. Your sweet girl seems perfectly normal at her age. If she was 18 years, you may receive different answers. ♥️
Separation anxiety or nervousness around new people is very normal at her age, and indicates that she has a healthy attachment with her primary caregivers! Meeting new people can be overwhelming for many toddlers and even older children (and adults!), and closing her eyes may be one way she can control her environment. Some children are more sensitive than others. My son is 3 years old and will sometimes cover his ears briefly or turn away when meeting new people. He will usually warm up and eventually be quite social if I don't push him to interact with the newcomers, if I am friendly to them, and if we meet in a place where he is comfortable.
keeps her eyes closed for hours
Seriously? Hours? That sounds super worrisome and not normal behavior for an average shy child. An average shy child would cry, avoid eye contact (yes, close eyes according to "If I cannot see you, you cannot see me"), turn away, run to a trusted person, hide behind that person etc.
As a parent, it is easy to fall into the trap that you want to encourage your child in that moment, when the visitor is in the house, to be less shy. But that just makes it worse. You cannot teach someone to swim while they are drowning.
Instead, provide the comfort that your daughter needs, calm her, tell the visitors, preferably before the visit, not to physically approach the daughter unless she approaches them even if that is disappointing for them. Take her out of the room if need be or to a safe distance. Engage the visitors in something else than your daughter. When daughter is calm again, you could walk by the visitors, daughter in your arms, in order to get something from that room, while the visitors do not even look at the child. Then walk out again. Repeat. Eventually visitors can try a low-key peekaboo. Or daughter can accept sitting in your lap at a safe distance from the visitors. Yes, this is not much fun for you and your visitors but neither is a scared child.
Maybe meeting visitors outside and go for a walk (to a playground?) is more acceptable for her?
Your equivalent to a "swimming lesson" would be to try to engage in conversation with people in shops, neighborhood, playground or similar with the goal that (1) your daughter remains calm even when looked at, (2) can be encouraged to wave to the stranger or similar.
Background: My youngest son turned super-shy with strangers (but not for hours!) at exactly the age of 6 months, as if he had read the book of child development, and that stayed for years. Fighting it would only turn into frustration for everybody. But, on a positive note, there is no way such a child would walk off with a stranger!