Respecting personal space and establishing personal boundaries are social skills that need to be learned early on. You can teach your child how to identify and understand personal space by modeling appropriate behaviors, planning learning activities and incorporating valuable lessons into daily life. Not only does this teach children how to respect others, it can also help avoid unsafe, inappropriate or uncomfortable scenarios.
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Teach your child to close the bathroom door when she needs to use the bathroom or get dressed. Demonstrate how to knock and wait for a reply before going into a room with a closed door. If your child forgets to knock or close the door, be consistent and offer verbal reminders. You can model appropriate behaviors, such as saying “I need to change my pants, so I’m going into my room for privacy.”
Offer a visual lesson by teaching your child about her “personal bubble.” Grab a hula hoop and have your child hold it at waist level. Tie two strips of ribbon or string to the hula hoop to create two shoulder straps to hold the hula hoop in place. As your child walks around, explain that the space around her is her own bubble and she is in charge of it. She should be aware of other people’s bubbles and she should not invade their space. Explain that family members and friends can give hugs and kisses inside each others' bubbles, but strangers shouldn’t get inside her bubble.
Use puppets to act out a lesson on personal space and communication. Hold two puppets up at different distances from each other, offer a scenario and ask your child if she thinks the proximity is acceptable in that situation. For instance, hold the puppets an inch apart and ask, “Is it OK for squirrel to stand this close to panda when he is on an crowded elevator?” After your child gives you an answer, keep the puppets the same distance from each other and ask if it is okay if they are the only two in the elevator. Then hold the two puppets one foot apart and ask if that is how a mommy and daughter hug. Also demonstrate how a puppet can use words to ask the other puppet to stand back, like “You are in my bubble, please back up.”
Offer your child a choice when it comes to personal affection and boundaries. This can be empowering and a lesson on communication. Ask, “Can I give you a hug?” before you plow right in. You can also give options, like “Can I give you kiss or do you want me to blow it to you?”
Designate space just for your child. Separate toy bins or designated drawers for storing personal belongings work for this. This teaches your child to take care of their own items and respect others possessions. Explain to your child that he must ask to borrow items that are not his.