July 02, 2015

Q: My 16-month-old doesn't like to be smothered by our very affectionate relatives. How can I teach her to be polite while respecting her need for space?

A: Before their next visit, make a photo book of the family she'll be seeing and look at it often, telling her about each person. Being more familiar with them may help her feel more comfortable when they arrive. Then, either before their visit or upon their arrival, remind your relatives that your daughter simply doesn't like hugs and kisses right away, and that she needs to get used to being around them again. It's not personal, it's just who she is. Suggest that they take some time to play with her, perhaps engaging her with a favorite toy or book. Encourage them to follow her lead. This will make her feel safe and help her build a strong relationship with them over time.Children look to their parents for cues about new situations and new people. So let your daughter see you give your relatives a big hug and kiss. This lets her know that you love and trust them, and she can too. Eventually, she might surprise you by automatically offering her cheek for a kiss when your relatives pop by.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, December 2006. Updated 2009

Answered by American Baby Team