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Lesson 19: Personal Space

With everyone being at home together for this extended period, I’m sure you can agree that we are all feeling a sense of closeness (physically and emotionally). Sometimes, this is welcomed, such as extra time on the couch together watching a movie, while other times, it may seem like we are too close being together all day. Today’s focus skill is personal space.

Personal space is the concept that everyone has a “bubble” around them. People feel uncomfortable when their personal space is invaded. This is also a good time to review the concept of social distancing (keeping at least 6 feet between yourself and others during this time when we are concerned about spreading germs). This can be explained by saying that people need even more personal space right now to help prevent the spread of germs. We should also limit touching others and make sure to wash our hands regularly.

Suggestions for using this skill:

● Provide reminders of personal space. Practice by having you and your child stand with arms outstretched and provide a reminder that this is a personal space bubble.

Optional activity: if you have access to a hula hoop, have your child hold the hoop around their waist to demonstrate their personal bubble. Have another person walk toward the child and stop when they reach the hoop. Have the child put the hoop down to show a “just right” distance between two people. To illustrate the concept of social distancing, use a measuring tape (or approximate) standing 6 feet away from each other.

● Talk with your child about understanding the differences in personal space depending on the relationship with others (ex. your child may hug you but it wouldn’t be appropriate to hug a stranger).

● Tips to use with any uncomfortable touch (hitting, pushing, etc.)

o Say “no” or “stop”

o Get away from the person

o Tell an adult

o Keep telling adults until the problem stops

● Identify personal spaces and boundaries at home (ex. not going into the bedroom or bathroom when doors are shut, not using materials that belong to a specific person without asking first, etc.).

● Use concepts when playing games. Personal space allows people to keep their cards to themselves without other people seeing. When playing board games, we should only move our own game piece because other game pieces “belong” to others.

● Encourage your child to try to “read” the facial expressions and body language of family members and pets (when the cat’s ears go back, it means he/she wants space, when your brother backs up you shouldn’t go closer). Reiterate the pets and family members still like them, but they are most comfortable with more space at that time.

● Encourage and praise your child for respecting others’ personal space at home (ex. siblings, adults, or pets) and by social distancing when in the community. Wash hands frequently!

During this time period, encourage your child to participate in activities that support healthy personal space and social distancing. Some suggestions are: staying at home with immediate family, using phone or video chat to keep in touch with family and friends, and going outside for a walk. We recognize that this is difficult for children and adults and your child may need help understanding the why of the current situation or simply validating their feelings of loss ("I understand that you feel upset about not seeing your friends right now"). This is often difficult when the adults are still processing and adjusting to the circumstances, which seem to change daily. One of the most important things you can do for your child at this time is to remain calm and help them to feel safe and supported at home. We will get through this together!

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