Personal Space is a very important social skill for children in elementary school to learn, practice and grow. Understanding and keeping good personal space helps children to engage more successfully in everyday interactions and in personal relationships with peers and adults, as well as helping them to stay safe.
Everyone feels more comfortable when the person they are with, respects their personal space.
While there some commonly held beliefs on how much space is appropriate in a given situation; the amount of personal space each of us needs can vary greatly.
This space changes depending on several factors:
- Who you are with
- What you are doing
- Where you are
Lots of people refer to the space that one needs to have between themselves and someone else, in order to feel comfortable, as their “space bubble.” It is generally accepted that we have a smaller “space bubble” with family and close friends, than we do with acquaintances, strangers and authority figures.
For young children, the space bubble can sometimes be the same size for everyone. Also, they tend to think that everyone has the same space bubble that they do. You often see this in very young children and in children with special needs. These children may come up to you and sit in your lap, hug you without permission, touch your hair, play with your necklace, touch a design on your shirt, or touch your body without permission, sometimes in inappropriate places.
As you can imagine, this can be very uncomfortable for the other person. When children do these things to teachers or other adults, we generally know how to handle these behaviors and how to redirect the child. But when one child intrudes on another child’s personal space, it does not always work out so well.
Children get uncomfortable, annoyed and sometimes angry when peers get in their personal space. It is important that we teach children what good personal space is, how to tell if they are invading someone else’s personal space, and if they are, what to do about it.
3 Key Points When Teaching Your Students About Personal Space
1. Model Good Personal Space
Modeling good personal space with your students is an important first step in teaching your students to use it and respect it. It can be easy to forget this as we go about our busy day and are trying to help our students. It is important for us to respect other’s personal space, even if it is much different than our own. We can do this by;
*Letting kids know when we need to get into their personal space
*Asking kids if we can get into their personal space and explaining why
*Acknowledging kids personal space boundaries, e.g. “I know you don’t like me to touch you so instead of a high five I am sending you a smile”
*Letting kids hear and see you doing this with other kids and adults
2. Teach Self Advocacy
Teach children how to recognize what their personal space is in various situations and how to advocate for themselves if someone intrudes on their space. Depending on the situation, children may need to;
*Ask(or tell) The Person To Back Up/Stop Touching
*Ask An Adult For Help
3. Explicitly Teach The Expected Behavior
Some children will need explicit teaching in order to truly understand and respect other’s personal space as well as to understand and advocate for their own. Here are some ways you can teach children what personal space is;
1. The Space Bubble: Using a hula hoop, have children hold the hula hoop around their waists and then walk around the space, seeing when their hula hoops bump. That is likely where someone’s personal space bubble would be. If you get much closer, the other person would probably be uncomfortable (make sure the hula hoops are not too big).
2. Sitting Down Space Bubble: You will need a lot of string or yarn to do this activity, or you can use a long jump rope and share it. Have children sit down and give them the string, yarn or rope (or do it outside and use sidewalk chalk). Let each child demonstrate their personal space bubble by arranging the string, yarn or jump rope around them, forming a circle whatever size they want. Look at children’s space bubbles. Are some bigger/smaller than others?
3. My Comfort Zone: As with Red Light / Green Light, one child is standing across the room and the other children are on the other side. This game works best if you have only one child advance forward toward the child across the room. The child who is demonstrating their space bubble should put their hand up using the “STOP” signal, when the child walking toward them gets close enough. Any closer and the child would be uncomfortable. Take a look at each child’s space bubble as you play. Have children switch places until everyone gets a turn to demonstrate their space bubble.
Personal Space & Safety
Another important reason to teach children to understand and respect personal space is for safety. Personal space can help us to stay safe. It can be a buffer zone which keeps people at a safe distance and even from bumping into one another. Personal space is a private and individual thing that can be hard to explain. We almost consider it like an extension of our body.
People may react negatively when their personal space is being invaded by another. They may simply feel discomfort, or they may experience anxiety or anger. Some children may even lash out physically at another child who has invaded their space. It is important to know the personal space boundaries of the students in your class. Especially if a child has a very small space bubble and experiences big reactions to someone coming into their space.
Personal space boundaries (space bubbles) can vary widely from person to person. It can depend on a variety of factors, including how well you know the other person, your relationship with the other person (do you like them, not like them), and how much you trust them.
Some children need to be taught to have a bigger space bubble with certain people or groups of people. One way to teach them this is by using a Personal Space Target. Using this target to demonstrate, you would draw, write or put a picture of the student in the middle of the target (the bullseye), then use the next rings to demonstrate who it is safe to have a smaller space bubble with and who should be kept at a greater distance. For example, family members would be in the ring next to the bullseye and strangers would be in the outermost ring.
For your convenience, I have made 3 Personal Space Targets for you. The first one is blank so that you or your student can add in the information. You can draw it, write it, or even use real photos. The second Target has some grey shading to help students visualize the different rings/levels of personal space. This target may be good for use with older students. The third Target is in soft colors to nicely demonstrate the different rings/levels of personal space generally used by people.
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