Q: My six-year-old is a kind, affectionate kid, but can be too effusive and overbearing with her friends, hugging them all the time and insisting they play with her. It’s come to the point where her “best friend” won’t sit with her on the bus anymore, which is breaking my daughter’s heart. How do I encourage her to ease up, without hurting her feelings?
A: How wonderful that your daughter has such enthusiasm. You can help her to adjust socially by teaching her that everyone is different, and not all children or adults like to be hugged too tightly or told what to do. Role-playing should be highly effective in this situation. Pretend to be your daughter’s friend and ask your daughter to hug you. Stiffen up or make a face when she does this to help her learn what cues to look for that someone needs some space or doesn’t like what’s happening. Help your daughter understand that this does not mean her friend doesn’t like her, only that she doesn’t want to be hugged. Children at this age are very concrete, so be sure to use specific language.
At her next playdate, give your daughter some gentle feedback, both positive (“I noticed you let Sally pick the game today; she was smiling and really seemed to like that”) and constructive (“Hey, did you see how Sally frowned and backed away when you took the doll she was playing with?”). Use any opportunity you can to celebrate your daughter’s strengths, and also teach empathy and appreciation of others’ perspectives.