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Personal Space – Teach Boundaries and Avoid Mixed Messages

Understanding personal space is an important social skill. Read some tips for teaching young children about respecting personal boundaries.

Parents and teachers work hard to avoid giving young children mixed messages.  We want them to know that certain behaviors are acceptable all the time and others are not ever acceptable.  We know that before we say no to a request or behavior, we need to be sure that our response will always be the same.  Yet, we often give young children very mixed messages about respect of personal space.

Understanding personal space is an essential non-verbal communication skill.  Children need to learn that every person has a boundary that is “owned.”   Social interactions will be more successful if they do not invade other people’s boundaries without permission.   Unfortunately, very little time is spent actively teaching this important social skill. 

Just as we take time to model manners and teach other socially acceptable behavior, we should work with children to develop an understanding of the proper time and etiquette for entering personal space.   They should also learn that they are allowed to protect their own space. 

  • Help your child to define his/her personal space.  Ask your children to hold their hands out to their sides and spin slowly in a circle.  The circle is their personal space. 
  • When children are very young, avoid teaching them that being nice or being gentle means touching softly.  For some reason, we tend to teach young children to pet each other as a sign for friendship.  By the time the children are 3 or 4 years old, someone is bound to ask them to keep their hands on their own bodies and not to touch each other.  To a 3 or 4 year old, it must seem like a strange request after years of being told that being nice means petting people.   Being nice can mean playing nicely – playing without grabbing, pushing or shoving.  Being nice does not need to mean touching.  Petting can be restricted to pets.
  • Explain that it is okay for certain people to enter their space to hug or kiss them.  The people who are allowed in their space should be specifically named.  Tell your child, “We hug grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, parents but we have to ask other people if we can hug them.”  Which brings us to the next point…
  • Teach your children to ask permission before touching most people.  Children should be taught to ask if they can sit on someone’s lap or hug & kiss them.
  • Make sure that your children know that it is acceptable to say no when someone wants to enter their personal space.  They also need to respect other people when they do not give permission to touch.
  • Children should be taught the parts of their bodies that are private and should only be touched by parents, caregivers or doctors.


Make teaching your children about their personal space and the personal space of others a part of everyday parenting much like we do with using the words “please” and “thank you.”  Understanding the boundaries surrounding their bodies will not only become an important part of their social interactions but will also help to keep them safe.

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Read more articles at www.cindyterebush.blogspot.com

For information about The Early Learning Center of Temple Shalom or Temple Shalom Religious School, contact Cindy Terebush at eddirector@templeshalomnj.org or call 732-566-2961.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

DAEBJ June 13, 2012 at 12:28 PM
In other words ... make your kids weird like the other kids and maybe then they will never show empathy and sympathy. It's unbelievable to me that this society has made it a bad thing for 2-4years old to give one another a hug. Then we wonder why the kids are the way they are ... I understand teaching your kids not to be all all over people but asking permission if they can go in someone's personal space? As for parts of the bodies and stranger danger, i think we all teach our kids what's appropriate without an article telling us to.
Dentss Dunnagun June 13, 2012 at 01:27 PM
DAEBJ...it's called sanitized ....Our schools are run by the Government ,which in turn want workers to work and provide taxes ...they try to scrub kids clean of creative thought .....we saw the same in China up until a few years ago .....
Cece June 14, 2012 at 07:44 PM
Well said DAEBJ.

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