Teaching Personal Space for Kids originally appeared on July 16, 2012.
The other day I wrote about teaching affectionate kids about personal space. There is a flip side to this of course. The kids who are not interested in receiving affection are prime candidates to start practicing how to protect their boundaries.
Sure, other people (kids and adults included) should be paying attention to your little one’s body language. They should be gauging his or her comfort level and respecting their boundaries. But what if someone doesn’t? For the most part boundaries are going to be broken in a harmless, unintentional way. Maybe it’s a kid who is still learning social cues and has some more years of practice ahead. Or perhaps a Grandparent who is overcome with love for their sweet grandbaby might miss the tense shoulders and uncomfortable glances towards you.
These times are perfect for you to start teaching your kid polite words and actions that might help if a dangerous situation ever does arrive. If you teach them to say no to an unwanted hug from a friend, they will likely know you support the decision to say no to ANYONE.
It can be a very delicate situation though. The last thing you want to do is offend a loving family member, or hurt the feelings of a kid who just adores your little one. If done correctly everyone can walk away happy and maybe a little more thoughtful in the area of BOUNDARIES.
Teaching Personal Space for Kids – The Prep
- Most likely the beginning of this post has already brought to mind a couple loving offenders, if not take a minute to think about times that your little one seemed a little more reserved than usual. Did he or she back up from someone when they went in for a good bye kiss? Are there specific times when they cling to your leg rather than say hello?
- Start paying attention and mentally noting these moments.
- Talk to your little one about how they are feeling. “I noticed you backed up a bit when Auntie gave you a hug. Why?” Remember when you are asking these questions it is really important to listen and respect your kids answer. This is all about empowering them to protect their own boundaries.
- Assure your little one that they have the right to refuse a hug. Talk about alternatives. (I’ll get to that in a moment). How would they feel most comfortable saying hello?
- Depending on the relationship you have with the offender, you might be able to give them a heads up. “Hey Sis, we’ve been talking with M about boundaries. When I asked her how she would like to greet people she said a wave would make her comfortable. Since you are so close to her, I thought you would be the perfect person to start practicing with. Will you make sure to step back and let her approach you with a greeting?”
- Read a book about personal space. The message in the book Miles is the Boss of His Body by Samantha Kurtzman-Counter and Abbie Shiller is wonderful! It follows a boy on his birthday. Out of love, his family touches him all day. Tossing his hair, big birthday hugs, cheek pinches and innocent tickles come from all over. In the end he tells them to stop and asks not to be touched. His family is proud of him for protecting his body.
Teaching Personal Space for Kids – In the Moment
- Whenever we are in a situation with M and M that I think warrants a little parent back up I talk directly to them loud enough that the other party can hear. “I see that Johnny would like a hug. Is that how you would like to say hello? No? Okay how would you like to say hello? Can you think of the words to tell Johnny that is how you feel or would you like some help?” At this point everyone knows you are behind your little one, but you are still putting into their hands.
- If help with words is needed, be polite and model words that are easy for a young kid to repeat. “She really wants to say goodbye. We had so much fun today. She wants to give you a high five. Would you like a high five?”
- Be on their level. Squat down or sit on the floor. This will keep the tone of the discussion light and friendly, rather than feeling like a scolding moment.
- Remember that this will be hard for some people to take and even harder to change. Be patient but firm. Expect that some kids (and adults) will need to be reminded. It will only give your little one more practice at protecting her boundaries.
Brainstorm with your little ones ways that you can show love, greet someone, or say goodbye. Here are somethings we try (of course we are giving our best effort to avoid a bear hug coming in from our end) waving, saying something nice, high five, a smile, blowing a kiss or throwing a hug. A special handshake could be a light and fun way to greet someone too.
What if You are the Offender?
I am… I know it. But, I have learned to read the signs and have practiced holding myself back from cuddling those little ones who don’t want it. Once in a while a parent will insist that their little one give out a hug. I always hit eye level and do my best to make everyone happy. “How about a wave instead? I just loved watching you swing, and I can’t wait to see you again.”
The best part about kids protecting their own boundaries is when they go in for a cuddle, you know how much it means.
Check out these 20 personal space activities for kids for hands on, playful ways of learning about personal space!
This post ended up being way longer than I expected. Did I cover everything? Do you have a question or want to add something? Visit the comment section. 🙂