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