Kate Drumm, a mom of two in Jacksonville, FL, thought it was sweet the first time she saw her 15-month-old son, Ryan, hug his little brother, Brendan. That is, until Ryan put a teary-eyed Brendan in a headlock on the floor while he tried to hug him some more.
Ryan's overzealous affection -- directed at siblings, pals, relatives, you name it -- is common for young toddlers. He's used to being praised for hugging, and he doesn't know other ways to show his emotions. Plus, he's not old enough to understand the meaning of personal space. "While touchy-feely kids may be cute, it's important to recognize that it's no longer cute if the hug isn't wanted by the other person," says Lois Nachamie, author of Big Lessons for Little People. To keep hugs ending with smiles rather than tears:
* Play the referee. If you see your toddler upsetting a playmate because he can't keep his arms to himself, step in. Simply say, "No more hugging right now." If he continues to move in for the hug, you may need to physically separate him from his friend for a few minutes.
* Distract your hugger. Find something else that may interest him -- a new game, a book for the two of you to look at together, a teddy bear to hug -- so he'll move on before his playmate gets overwhelmed by the love.
* Take one for the team. Tell your child that his friend (or worn-out uncle) doesn't want any more hugs this afternoon and that he should give a hug only to people who say they'd like one. Then relish in his lovey-dovey phase and say, "Mommy would like a hug."