Baby-kiss-pig  Dear Dr. B,

  My one-year-old has just learned
  to kiss which is adorable. She
  kisses her father and I all the time.
  Yesterday, unprompted, she kissed
  another kid. Again, adorable. BUT.
  I'm wondering if this is, in fact, a
  problem. Obviously, there is the
  issue of germs. As well as the fact
  that I don't want my child to end up being the weirdly overly affectionate kid in school kissing all the boys. How in the world do you teach a baby that it is OK to kiss certain people but not others? Or is it silly for me to be concerned?

Signed, EH

Dear EH,

By the time your one-year-old enters school, she will be able to understand much more than she does now. A simple, “We kiss our family, not our friends or teachers” will probably suffice. Until then it is most likely not a cause for concern. Although, if you are truly worried about germs, there are actions you can take to discourage her from kissing as a way to interact with other children. And at a certain point, usually when your child enters preschool, it is definitely appropriate to teach the concept of boundaries and personal space.

When a child first shows a sign of affection, everyone thinks it's adorable so it is often followed by “AWWW” and lots of praise, which increases the likelihood that the child will display this behavior again. Because she just learned to kiss and doesn’t necessarily associate kissing with love in the way that we do as adults, she is likely kissing because she has learned to imitate this behavior from you and your husband and realizes that it will produce a BIG positive reaction. Eventually, she will also understand that this behavior is a special way to interact with people she enjoys spending time with.

If you are looking to discourage overly affectionate behavior with other children at this stage, it is best to give her lots of praise when she kisses immediate family members but refrain from the big “AWWW” when she kisses another child spontaneously (even though it is probably super cute) to avoid accidentally rewarding the behavior. Try limiting your reaction without saying anything negative like "No!" because she is not doing anything bad. When you catch her in the act, just redirect her by moving her away and showing her to wave and say “hi” instead. When she says “hi” instead of kissing, then you can give her lots of praise. Overtime, she will learn that she gets lots of positive attention from kissing you but not from kissing other children.

As she gets older and enters preschool, it becomes more important for you to explain boundaries by telling her specifically who is appropriate to kiss and who is not. Not only because of germs, but so your child can learn to protect herself from unwanted touch or affection from other children or adults invading her personal space.

One thing you can start now is to tell and/or ask your child before you kiss them, pick them up, or show them affection. Then when your child's language develops, you can teach them to do the same before showing affection to others. If your child can learn to ask first, even if she still likes to be overly affectionate in school, she’ll at least be respectful by giving her peers the right to say ‘no.’ And as an additionally positive result, she will come to expect others to ask for her permission to be affectionate as well.

Dr. B