5 ways to teach your child about personal space

By Kate Kelly

Most kids easily develop an understanding of how close to stand to other people when talking to them. But kids who struggle with social cues often don’t pick up on what’s typical. They may turn off or annoy peers by standing too close.

Read about five ways you can help your child understand personal space. You can also watch this video of an expert explaining some of these strategies.

1. Let your child feel “too close.”

Have your child stand about 2 feet away from you. Ask if that distance feels comfortable. Then ask your child to slowly walk toward you until it feels uncomfortable. Explain that this is how people feel when others stand too close — except their “personal bubble” is larger.

2. Show the right distance.

How close people stand varies from culture to culture. In the United States, 18 to 24 inches is usually a good amount of space. Use a prop to make this distance concrete.

You could take a hula-hoop and stand in the center. Have your child stand just outside the rim. Then take it away to practice finding the right place to stand. You can also use any object about two feet long to show the proper space between people who are talking.

3. Stage conversations. 

Have family members (including your child) take turns standing too close or just the right distance when talking to each other. Take videos of these scenes and review them together so your child has a clear idea of what appropriate spacing looks like.

4. Help look for clues.

Explain that if someone in a conversation takes a step back, your child should remain in place. The person is signaling that more distance between them would be better. Talk about other social cues your child can look for to see if the other person is uncomfortable. 

5. Practice, practice, practice.

With enough repetition, kids can learn the rules of personal space and use strategies to keep a proper distance. Give your child a reminder phrase, such as “To be cool, an arm’s length is the rule.”

Looking for more ways to help your child learn about personal space? Read how a mom used the “elbow rule” to help her son learn to not stand so close to others.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.