My 10-year-old always stands very close to people. It’s clear when people are not comfortable with it, but my child does it anyway. Why?
Most of us feel uncomfortable when others stand too close. But some kids don’t seem to get this. For some reason, they struggle with the idea of personal space. Usually, it’s because they have trouble reading body language, or they’re excited and want someone’s attention.
Personal space is different from culture to culture. In the United States, research shows that most people like to stand about 18 to 24 inches away.
When we feel like someone’s too close, we give a few signals. We may take a step back, frown, or look away. As they get older, most kids are able to see these signs and know what they mean.
But some kids don’t get the message. It’s not that they’re trying to annoy other people. In fact, getting close may be their way of trying to connect. The problem is they’re not picking up on the unspoken cues. So, they don’t understand that they’re making people uncomfortable.
Some kids get too close when they’re really excited and want to get someone’s attention. They might run over to a friend to talk about a new superhero movie, even though the friend is reading. They may know the right distance to keep. But they’re too excited to stop themselves.
There are ways you can help your child learn how to respect personal space. Nearly all kids can get better at it with a good bit of practice. You just need to explain things clearly and directly. Then give lots of opportunities to practice in real-life situations.
One exercise I’ve used a lot is to put a hula-hoop on the ground and then step into the middle of it to show a child the amount of space people need. There are other exercises I have used, too. Watch this video with my tips on how to teach personal space.
Even though teaching personal space is easy, don’t put off doing it. If your child has trouble with this skill, it can lead to lots of misunderstanding with other kids. And it can make it hard to make friends and fit in.
Read more on teaching kids about personal space.
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About the author
About the author
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.