I never thought that a child could be too affectionate. In fact, I bristled when my daughter was a few months old and I heard a mom complaining that her preschooler was constantly kissing and hugging her. Although I adore my daughter, there are times that I simply can't tolerate any more affection. And, if I have the audacity to push her away or tell her that she can't hug me, I'll see that painful, pouty lip and those tear-filled eyes.
I haven't found the perfect solution to teach personal space to my daughter without hurting her or making her feel insecure-- and I certainly don't know a sure-fire solution that will work for all parents. However, here are a few techniques that have helped me to teach my daughter to respect other people's personal boundaries when it comes to affection.
1. Enjoy your child. First and foremost, understand that you can't change your child's base nature (and why would you want to?). If your child is hard-wired to be an affectionate, sweet, loving little cuddle-bean, that's what he's going to be. Enjoy your child for who he is, even knowing that his constant hugs and "I love you"s can be overwhelming. These days will pass by far too fast, and the time will come when he will not want to hug you. Don't be in too much of a hurry for your child to "outgrow" is own temperament.
2. Ask for affection; don't insist on it. If your child says she doesn't want a hug, and you "steal" one anyway, you give her the message that it's okay to invade someone's personal space when they are clearly telling you not to. When you start letting your child know that it's okay to decline an offer for hugs or kisses, she'll start to understand that it's okay for other people to decline her affectionate advances.
3. Set limits. You owe it to your child to communicate that there are limits on the amount of affection that a person can tolerate. If you don't set limits to some extent, you ultimately do a disservice to your child. If you are uncomfortable hugging or cuddling your child-- whether because of inconvenience, physical discomfort, or simple annoyance-- you need to communicate your own desire for more personal space.
4. Explain personal space. By the time a child is about three to four years old, she can begin to understand the concept of personal space. Have a talk with your child about the importance of respecting other people's physical space. Explain that, if she is in close proximity to another person (or in the arms of that person) the other party can ask her to move further away. She has to respect this wish. As your child matures, she'll accept these limits and stop invading the space of other individuals.
5. Talk to other caregivers. If your child has any other caregivers, such as preschool teachers, daycare workers or other family members, talk to them about your child's tendency toward excessive affection. Make sure that other adults in your child's life are backing you up in reinforcing the need for personal space. To teach your affectionate child an important lesson, you need to make sure that his messages from other adults are consistent with your own.
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