Personal space can be a difficult concept for a child to understand. After all, many children are used to hugging or sitting on the lap of family members all the time. Problems might arise, however, when kids take that behavior with them into the world, going up to strangers and touching them or invading their personal space. Helping children understand personal space is not only an important social skill but it's also a safety measure for the child himself.
Teach children to mark their own personal space first. For example, teach them to close the door when going to the bathroom or when they're changing. Give them spaces, such as a closet, a toy chest or a room, that are just theirs. If your child has siblings, stress the importance of not getting into each other's spaces without asking for permission.
Use visual cues to show toddlers what's considered personal space. For example, have the child stand up and stretch his arms forward and then to the sides. Explain to him that this is his personal bubble and that everybody has one. Then explain that you should not invade a stranger's personal bubble. You can also use a hula-hoop and have a child stand inside it. The space inside the hula-hoop is the equivalent to a person's personal space. Having a clear idea of what personal space looks like might make it easier for young children to respect it.
Talk about the importance of not touching strangers. A young child who is used to hugging friends and family members might have the same reaction around strangers. Explain the importance of respecting that person's personal space. Use appropriate words to explain that strangers are also expected to respect his personal space. With older children, you can explore the issue of inappropriate touching and what to do about it.
Use pictures to help children understand personal space in different situations. You can use magazines or picture books and ask your child whether each image is respecting personal space or not.
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