An overly affectionate child may be concerning to a parent. We teach against “stranger danger,” and also want to teach our kids to “self-soothe.” When a child is overly affectionate, we start to question why they are so clingy.

The signs that a child is overly affectionate include:

  • Talking to strangers about their personal life
  • Sitting on the lap of a non-family member or acquaintance
  • Running up to and hugging a stranger on the street
  • Being overly clingy and huggy to family members
  • Asking to “cuddle” or sleep with family members excessively
  • Needing hugs or touch more than 5 times per day
  • Asking non-family members for personal care

As parents, teaching children boundaries for themselves and others is a very important issue. It may be concerning when you have a child that does not see these boundaries. They may make people outside of family uncomfortable, and put themselves at risk of abuse by a stranger. It can also be time consuming for parents and family members to take care of a child who needs constant affection. 

Causes of an Overly Affectionate Child

There are several different reasons including:

Mimicking Adult Behavior

A young child in the toddler stage may just be mimicking adult behavior. They also think this is how love is shown because we kiss and cuddle them more than we would an older child. They may even think that hugs and kisses are okay with people who are not so close, because a distant relative may have given them cuddles when they first met. Toddlers usually outgrow these behaviors on their own as they discover their own boundaries around the time they enter preschool or kindergarten and it is usually nothing to worry about.

Lack of Family Boundaries

In older children and teens, they may come from families that are overly affectionate. This is quite simply a learned behavior on how love is shown to others. If the family has not boundaries on affection, the child may not have been told growing up that this is limited to family only. Thus, they display inappropriate affection towards people who are not family. The issue here is that there are no real set “standards” in society regarding affection towards non-family members and it largely depends on the individual situation. In life, you may come across people who greet you with a hug, as well as, people who step back and use a handshake.

Neglect By Caregivers

Children who receive very little attention to their needs at home, may display affection outside of the home to people like; teachers, medical staff, strangers, and friends parents. Children have a need to receive physical reassurance and comfort from their primary caregivers such as; hugs, high fives, pats on the back, and kisses on the forehead. Touch is an important part of child development and studies show that when caregivers give love and affection, children tend to thrive better. If they do not get this reassurance at home, they will look elsewhere for it. The problem is, they can look in the wrong places and place themselves in danger.

This situation is very common in situations where children have been placed in foster homes, some children who live with one biological parent and a stepparent and the other biological parent is absent, children who live in orphanages and have had little to no caregiver contact, and children who live with an extended family member.

Possible Abuse

Lastly, someone overly affectionate may be suffering from some kind of abuse. This can consist of emotional abuse, physical, or sexual abuse. It most often occurs between the child and a family member, but can also be a close family friend or acquaintance. The signs usually appear in a child who was not previously overly affectionate, but then suddenly becomes more affectionate than normal. It might be noticed when a child comes home from a visit with the possible perpetrator.

How To Deal With An Overly Affectionate Child

Children need to be taught proper discernment about addressing people outside of family. There is no need to be cold and unfeeling towards others they meet, for that could bring up a whole other issue. They do need to understand reading social cues and learn how to set boundaries. Here are some helpful tips on how to deal with it:

Teach Good Social Cues

Children don’t need to be made into cold and unfeeling robots, but they do need to understand that everyone is different about affection. Teaching them to read the social cues of others is a good way to help them discern how to greet people. An easy way to do this is by role-playing with your child. Show them that a person who stays a step back and offers a hand, would like to be greeted with a handshake. A person who has open arms may like hugs as a greeting. Teach them it is only appropriate to greet someone new when a family member is present and not appropriate with strangers.

Teach The “5 Hug A Day” Rule

Kids who have trouble “self soothing” and become clingy or overly huggy may need to be taught that hugs and kisses on the forehead will be given at certain times of day; good morning hugs, good-bye hugs, back from school hugs, and bedtime hugs. Plus, one hug that is saved for praise of something good. All other times of day we focus on entertaining and soothing ourselves. This helps your child build self-esteem without looking to others for approval.

Get Some Help

If you are still having an issue with an overly affectionate child, you may need to consult with a therapist. Your child may be experiencing a situation that they are afraid to talk to you about such as; abuse, bullying at school, or other emotional issues. Often, an outside party can help bring up what is bothering them and get to the root of the issue. They can also help with teaching healthy boundaries and “stranger danger.”