13 - 15 Months

Why your toddler may need space instead of a hug

don't take it personally if your toddler pushes you away when they're upset

Holding your baby in your arms may have been an effective way to calm them during year one. Now that they’re a toddler, they may push you away. Why the change?

Research shows that starting in the second year of life, some toddlers are less soothed by close physical contact than they were as babies. As they get older, they may have more mobility and independence, as well as a better understanding of why they’re upset. This can lead to longer periods of frustration and more intense behaviors that aren’t always soothed by a kiss and a hug.

All toddlers are different, and you know yours best. If a big hug is just what they need to get through a tough moment, then offer one. If they start to need extra space from you, you can still co-regulate with them from a short distance away.

What to do when your toddler isn’t soothed by a hug

  • Even if it sometimes feels like a slight, don’t take it personally. Avoid making them feel bad by saying you’re sad they’re not hugging you.
  • Honor your toddler’s need for space and just sit close to them without talking. If your toddler is really upset, they’re in no position to listen—and all they need is to know you’re nearby.
  • If your toddler has calmed down a bit, narrate what’s going on without any judgment. They just need to be seen. You can say, “You’re rolling back and forth on the floor. You seem really mad right now.”

Sometimes, your toddler may need help regulating intense feelings of excitement or silliness. In these moments, you can match their energy, but a notch below them. Join in on their excitement while modeling how to tone it down.

Learn more about the research

Calkins, S. D., & Johnson, M. C. (1998). Toddler regulation of distress to frustrating events: Temperamental and maternal correlates. Infant Behavior and Development, 21(3), 379-395.

Deichmann, F., & Ahnert, L. (2021). The terrible twos: How children cope with frustration and tantrums and the effect of maternal and paternal behaviors. Infancy, 26(3), 469-493.

Spinrad, T. L., Stifter, C. A., Donelan-McCall, N., & Turner, L. (2004). Mothers’ regulation strategies in response to toddlers’ affect: Links to later emotion self-regulation. Social Development, 13(1), 40-55.


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Posted in: 13 - 15 Months, 16 - 18 Months, 19 - 21 Months, 22 - 24 Months, Social Emotional, Behavior, Lovevery App, Parenting, Child Development

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