We all have our boundaries. The parameters that we put up to give people distance. As we begin to establish comfort levels, those barriers are knocked down. Comfort levels work the same way universally whether we are talking about adults or kids. Teaching kids about personal space, or boundaries, can come more easily to parents if you know how to relate.
1. Empathize with them
Not all kids come with open arms, ready to accept strangers into their lives. Some kids are shy and take months to warm-up to a new person. Accepting your child’s comfort level is your first step to teaching kids about personal space.
How can we teach our kids to respect others’ space if we don’t accept theirs? Asking questions like, “Would you like a hug?” instead of forcing a bear hug on our children gives them the power to understand their personal control and power over their space.
2. Gentle Touch
For toddlers and preschoolers, the proper decorum of social interaction is confusing. Children hit, punch, bite, slap, and scream at their friends.
Teaching children about gentle touch and using words is important in regards to personal space.
A good way to demonstrate this lesson is with pets, particularly ones with fur. When families include pets, kids can connect and understand when touch is gentle and when touch hurts. Engaging with your child and teaching them the difference between when the family pet likes to be patted and when he doesn’t, helps teach the gentle touch process.
If you see your child hitting another person in a non-gentle way, correct the behavior immediately. Repeating a simple phrase like, “Hitting hurts. That hurts someone else. Hurting isn’t nice.” This allows kids to understand their actions in a kid friendly language. Repeating the same phrase, no matter how often will hopefully result in no more hurting.
3. Using words
We can never underestimate the power of words. Giving your child the power to speak up when they feel uncomfortable is vital to establishing personal space.
If you hear whining and irritable behavior, allow the child to tell you what is wrong instead of punishing the irritability. I always say, “What’s wrong? Use your words,” when I can see a child feeling uneasy.
Giving them the power to speak up will help them establish independence and autonomy, traits that are vital for growing up.
We want our kids to be comfortable in their own skin and for them to feel empowered to use their voices.
Giving children self-confidence and having empathy for even the smallest problems that they might be experiencing, lets kids know that they matter. We cannot define personal space for kids, they must learn to define it for themselves, and we have to support them wherever their boundaries lie.
Personal space is personal and there’s nothing parents can do but wait, encourage, understand, and most importantly, love!