Can Too Much Affection Spoil a Child?

Your toddler asks to be carried everywhere you go. He crawls into your bed for extra snuggles in the morning. Days are filled with constant touches, kisses on his chubby cheeks and maybe a bit of parental guilt that you are spoiling your child and he will be too attached to Mommy to ever have a normal social life. You might even begin to wonder whether you're spoiling your child by giving him too much affection.


First, it is important to understand what spoiling is. Dr. Sears describes spoiling as overindulgence and an inability to set limits and provide boundaries. An important distinction is deciding what a child wants and what a child needs. All his needs should be met, but meeting all of his wants can smack of overindulgence. Giving in to his every whim can foster an already raging feeling of entitlement from your toddler, but it is still unclear if giving him all the affection he wants has the same effect.

Giving Hugs, Not Cookies

Hugs are not harmful to your child’s health. Cookies, candy and other sweet rewards can lead to obesity and a habit of filling emotional holes with food. Rewards of food, and other material items for that matter, should be limited. Too many can be considered overindulgent, particularly if the child does nothing to earn the reward but whine. Affection does not have the same limitations, and it fulfills a child’s need for love.

The Security of Snuggling

Kids need a connection with a parent or caregiver, and physical closeness is an ideal way to nurture that connection. Your toddler may be getting more independent, but he still feels safest in your arms. According to the National Institutes of Health website, children show distress when separated from their parents in stressful situations, such as in hospitals. He might need a quick hug or word of encouragement in less scary places as well, like the playground. Having a strong connection helps build his confidence and trust as he explores the world one sandbox at a time.

Too Much Affection?

Clearly a child needs a daily dose of affection, but can a child get too much of a good thing? Like the cookies, can it get to a point of being overindulgent? Maybe not. An article by Jason Marsh on the University of California at Berkeley's Greater Good website cited a longterm study of 500 participants followed from infancy to adulthood to measure the effects of maternal affection on their lives. The adults who had the most affectionate mothers suffered less distress from anxiety and other psychological disorders. While evidence shows affection is good for emotional development, being aware of cues from the child is important. If your toddler is telling you to please stop, he might be telling you enough is enough.