Advice for a preschooler who HUGS too much

Dear Dr. Heather, My 3-year-old son started nursery school a few weeks ago. Everything is fine except that he hugs the other kids too much! They do not want him to hug them and they wind up hitting him or running from his approach. The teachers have tried to talk to him about it and asked me to please try again tonight. Today he came home with 2 more scratches on his face. I don't know what to tell him to make him understand, and I want him to have a good experience at school. Help!

London Dad

Dear London Dad,

Even though it may seem like your son is the only one with difficulties in transition to school, believe me, he's not. They all have their little variations on the theme. I myself have just now returned from dropping off my 3-year-old at his new preschool. He's not a "hugger", but he is a "clingy whiner". Another of the kids there gets upset when the teacher pays attention to other children, and another strips down to her undies when she misses her parents! This is a difficult time of year in terms of transitions to new things for our little ones. Usually, a few weeks max is all it takes to get used to a new school. But those weeks can feel punishingly, guiltily LONG for us parents!

Your little guy is so young and new to the preschool setting. He really can't be expected to get all the social niceties completely worked out yet. Ideally, you want him with a teacher who can help him to transition and learn how to interact with the other kids so that they all have fun together. This should not be a "scolding" thing, but rather a "fun/learning" thing.

As I said, there are other kids there who are struggling as well with the transition, but in different ways. It's normal; we can't expect a 3-year-old to transition to such a new setting without some bumps and wrinkles. So don't feel too bad about it, and try to convey a positive attitude to him. You can practice with him how to greet friends -- lots of "high fives" and "good morning!" greetings. Give him lots of praise when he seems to improve and "get it". Help him greet his friends once he arrives at school -- stay with him 1-1 down on his level until he says hello to everyone. Don't make it a chore, but simply help him do it in a good way, and again -- give lots of praise. And when he gets home, reinforce the positive steps he took during school that day, and practice "how we say hello" to others at school.

Please talk with the teacher(s) about the issue and ask for their help and guidance and suggestions. Good teachers will have come across this before (many times!) and will not be put off by it or scold him for it. And be happy that he's a sociable little guy!

Hang in there and let us know how it goes.


Dr. Heather The BabyShrink