Picking up on social cues

At a Glance: Teaching Your Child About Personal Space

By Kate Kelly

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Most kids have a built-in understanding of how close to stand to other people when talking to them. But some kids who struggle with social cues don’t have that awareness and may turn off or annoy peers by standing too close. Here’s how to help.

225Found this helpful
At a Glance: Teaching Your Child About Personal Space
If your child stands too close to people when he talks to them, he probably doesn’t feel the discomfort they feel. He may also not recognize the social cues that indicate he should take a step back. Here’s how to teach him the concept of personal space.

Let Him Feel “Too Close” 
Have your child stand about two feet away from you. Ask if that distance feels comfortable. Then tell him to slowly walk toward you until he feels uncomfortable. Explain that this is how people feel when he stands too close—except their “personal bubble” is larger than his is.

Show the Right Distance
Generally, 18–24 inches is a good amount of space. Use a prop to make this distance concrete. Take a hula-hoop, for example, and stand in the center. Have your child stand just outside the rim. Then take it away and let him practice nding the right place to stand. You can also use a tennis racquet or similar-length object to show the proper space between people who are talking.

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.

Help Him Look for Clues
Explain that if someone he’s talking to takes a step back, your child should remain in place. The person is signaling he’d like more distance between them. Discuss other social cues he can look for to see if the other person is uncomfortable. 

Practice, Practice, Practice
With enough repetition, kids can learn the rules of personal space and more easily call up strategies to keep a proper distance. Give your child a reminder phrase, such as “To be cool, an arm’s length is the rule.”
Graphic of At a Glance: Teaching Your Child About Personal Space
Graphic of At a Glance: Teaching Your Child About Personal Space

About the Author

Portrait of Kate Kelly

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

Reviewed by

Portrait of Mark Griffin

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

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