How To Teach Children About Personal Space

Importance of personal spaceEver had someone stand so close to you that you could almost see the insides of their mouth while they talk?

As civilised people, we need to maintain decorum when we have conversations with each other. This decorum basically trickles down to maintaining personal space.

“Children are into the habit of hugging, kissing, touching, and incessant movement as they speak,” says Neetu from St. Xavier’s High School.

Although we find these habits cute and encourage physical touch to demonstrate love at home, kids need to be told about a no-touch-no-intrusion behaviour outside.
RELATED: Good Touch Vs Bad Touch: 5 Ways To Educate Your Child
How do we do that?

“There are two aspects to personal space,” says Neetu. The first one is tangible; it’s the physical space around us. The second is intangible; it’s the conceptual or psychological personal space.

“It’s very easy to teach maintaining distance as you approach, talk, or interact with someone. That is tangible or evident personal space,” she says.

She adds that the problem arises when we want to teach about intangible personal space like body language, respecting someone’s need to be alone, and asking personal questions.

Since there’s no fun in learning by rote, I tested 5 activities to make teaching about personal space fun for children. Try them out!

1) Know your body

This activity is to help parents of toddlers. Since you’re so cool and want to start young, you should start with introducing body parts to your children and the uses of those parts during conversations. Using the term ‘personal space’ is not necessary, is it?

What you need

  • A large piece of chart
  • A marker/felt pen
  • Your child!

What do you do?

  • Spread the chart on the floor like a mat.
  • Ask your child to lie down on the chart and trace his/her body outline.
  • Once done, hang the outline on the wall or mount it on a soft board.
  • Point to the parts of the body and explain the use of hands, feet, and face.
  • Casually, mention that the idea behind body language comes from using the body during communication.

What happens?

  • It’s exciting for a child to get his/her body outlined.
  • It’s a fun way of introducing the various parts of the body and getting the child to listen.
  • It helps parents introduce the concept of body language at a young age.

2) Emoticons

“I think the eyes and distance say a lot about comfort. Maybe that’s why my glare works.”

Puneet is a father of two sons who are scared of his angry glare. Whenever they’re naughty, all Puneet needs to do is look pointedly at them for a few seconds and it’s a perfect world again.

I wish this could work at my home! Anyway, that’s beside the point. Puneet’s point is that we can teach children to understand comfort and emotions just by looking at the other person’s eyes.

“They should figure out, rather sense, the other one’s comfort,” he adds.

Here’s an activity you can try for this:

What you need

  • Printed sheet of emoticons (those that we use for chatting and WhatsApp!)

What you do

  • Show the sheet of emoticons (short for icons that show emotions) and ask your child which one shows anger.
  • He/she will know and will definitely point to the angry icon.
  • Ask your child how he/she knows for sure. Is it the eyes?
  • Also ask him/her to identify emoticons for excited, sad, and uncomfortable, happy, etc.

What happens?

  • The eyes and hands are the most prominent features that display emotion and understanding this emotion lays the foundation to understanding personal space.

“You can also tell your child that keeping a distance during conversations and knocking before entering are forms of the same concept of personal space,” says Neetu.

Want to try it?

3) The hoop checkImportance of personal space

A visual idea about personal space is very important,” says Neetu.

She believes that parents need to explain how close a person can get to the child as per the relationship of that person with the child.

“Children understand mine and yours instinctively. The same notion can be applied to personal space. The space closest to me is my space and your space is a little far from me,” adds Neetu.

Children can maintain distance with people as per their parents’ instructions. “We need to tell them how to take care of their space amidst a crowd as well as when alone. This discussion comes in handy for life since we interact with unknown people on a daily basis as we grow,” says Neetu.

What you need

  • A hula hoop or a metre-long rope
  • A piece of chalk

What you do

  • Let your child wear the hula hoop around his/her waist. If you are using rope, tie the ends together so that the child can hold it as a belt hear his/her waist.
  • Stand close to him/her so that your body touches the hula hoop. Using the chalk, mark your position on the floor. For the rope, the position is as far as the diameter of the rope.
  • Ask your child if he/she feels nice or comfortable depending on the understanding of the words.
  • Then, enter the hula hoop/rope belt so that the two of you are inside the hoop together. Mark your position.
  • Now ask again if he/she feels comfortable. Since you are the parent, your child will seem comfortable with the closeness. Explain how this comfort means comfortable personal space.

What happens?

  • When you show your child the marks of positions that you have made on the floor, you can initiate discussion about personal space with respect to safety.
  • When parents are close to children they feel safe; but when strangers are close, they will feel unsafe. This is the reason why nobody except parents should be allowed inside the space of the hula hoop/rope circle.

“Ask your child to imagine being inside a hoop at all times. Trust me the idea stays,” concludes Neetu.

4) The eavesdropper

“Listening to other people’s conversations and reading other’s letters is also invading personal space. Isn’t it?” asks Neetu.

Along with physical space, we need to teach children about personal space in the sense of minding your own business.

“We let them hear our conversations over the phone and they presume that listening to conversations is a done thing.”

Neetu suggests initiating talks about personal space by demonstrating personal conversations and phone-manners.

The fake phone call

  • Ask your child to have a make-believe conversation using a toy phone with mamma/papa or anyone else he/she wants to talk to.
  • As he/she speaks, try and get very close and listen to the conversation. Make sure that your behaviour distracts the child and interrupts the conversation.
  • When the child gets irritated or throws a tantrum, tell him/her that listening to other people’s conversation is invasion of personal space and leads to irritation.

What happens?

  • Your child will understand the idea behind not listening in on other’s conversations or at least not standing too close while a conversation is going on.
  • Whether or not he/she follow the rules when you’re on the phone is not guaranteed.

Try it at your own risk!

5) What about the letters?

Children can be in the habit of reading letters, personal journals, or notes made by you on the family computer. That’s invasion of personal space too.

What you do

  • This one needs mamma and papa together. Sit down with your child and announce that one of you is writing a letter for him/her.
  • Then animatedly write a letter to your child as he/she looks on.
  • Once the letter is complete, fold it, and place it in front of your child.
  • Before your child picks up the letter, the other parent (one who has not written the letter) should grab the letter and pretend to read it.
  • Your child will throw a fit or be uncomfortable.

What happens?

  • As you hand the letter back to your child, explain the discomfort that he/she felt when the letter was read by the parent first.
  • This discomfort is due to invasion of privacy which is why reading someone else’s letter/journal/personal note is not a good thing.

Play and then watch

“As children get comfortable with their body and personal space, they can define their own rules,” says Neetu. She suggests that once we have played games and practised activities regarding personal space at home, we should test the learning outside. Don’t worry, it’s not a serious test!

“Let your child play with friends as usual but watch how he/she behaves. Also check if he/she remembers the rules about boundaries and space.” says Neetu.

Good friendships and bonding are based on respecting personal space. As children grow up, they will understand this and our job is just to introduce the idea to them. They will then form their own ideas and make their own rules.

What are the ways in which you teach your child about personal space? Share your suggestions with us.

Image Credits: Tim Snell; Philippe Put

One Comment

  1. You Have Written Simply Superb Content.
    I wish I was totally taught this way!

    Thank you for this amazing content 🙂

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