Helping Kids Understand Personal Space
From following me into the bathroom to choosing to sit “in my armpit” on an otherwise empty couch, my son loves to be right on top of me at all times. While we may want (and need) our own space as parents and caregivers, having your little one wanting to snuggle with you all the time is precious. However, how do we teach them that it’s okay to do that with mom or dad, but not okay to snuggle with their neighbor or their teacher?
With time most kids naturally learn the ins and outs of personal space; however, this can be somewhat challenging for those who struggle with social cues. Here are three tips to help kids understand personal space.
Use Visual Cues
We all have different levels of comfort with personal space, but it can be hard for kids to understand what that space is without a visual. Using different size hula-hoops is a perfect way to show the three comfort zones:
The closest one for immediate family,
The middle one for close friends or when a teacher is helping you, and
The farthest one for store clerks, the mail carrier, and other members of the community.
When we stand too close to others we can “pop their bubble.” Kids usually find this to be funny and it helps them understand the concept quickly.
Understanding Social Cues
Just as we learn how to read words, we must also learn how to read body language. We can teach our kids what it means when someone takes a few steps back, avoids making eye contact, or crosses their arms in the middle of a conversation.
This can also be done by people watching. Kids can learn a lot from sitting on a park bench and playing a guessing game of “family or friends” depending on the way they see people interacting and how big "the bubble” is between them.
Practice Getting Someone’s Attention
Because young children are small in stature and egocentric in nature, they naturally do more to get others’ attention. They can speak over a person’s words or become physical like touching the arm or face of the person they want to communicate with. Have your child practice calling someone by name when they want to speak or play with them. This may take more time to conquer as it requires understanding both the concepts of personal space AND patience.
Of course once each tip is discussed, practice, practice, practice. Involve other family members in the practice and use the phrase, “You’re popping my bubble,” when your child gets too close. It is a friendly reminder which will make them laugh and remember personal space.
Our Current Times
The pandemic has brought upon a new layer of importance to the concept of personal space. Just as we teach our kids how to cover their mouths when they sneeze, we can tell our kids to keep everyone safe and healthy, we have to leave extra space between each other for the time being (like the space of that big hula-hoop). Again, using that visual will help make the space concrete for kids to understand.
Books to Help
I love using literature as it gives kids real live examples (in their eyes) of what you are trying to teach. The book Personal Space Camp written by Julia Cook and illustrated by Carrie Hartman is a funny and realistic book which teaches the aspect of personal space in the sense of not pushing others, not talking over words, and other examples. It is a great book for children in grades 1-5.
As always it is my goal to help you Learn, Grow and Inspire… Mindfully
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Vanessa De Jesus Guzman is an Educator and Licensed Professional Counselor with nearly two decades of experience in working with children and families. She is the CEO of Free to Be Mindful - located in Ridgefield, NJ - which provides counseling and mindfulness education for kids, parents and educators.
Vanessa has been featured on the Today Show and is passionate about helping others Learn, Grow & Inspire… all with mindfulness in mind.