Teaching children how to set and maintain boundaries, as well as the importance of personal space, reinforces a key component of body safety education – their body belongs to them. Parents and caregivers can utilize opportunities for teaching these skills in everyday life:
- At home. Doors are a physical reminder of personal space and boundaries. Talk with children about closing the door when they are using the bathroom, showering, or changing clothes. Let them know it is okay to expect or ask for privacy.
- When visiting friends and family. Allow children to choose who they give touches (hugs, high-fives, kisses) to. Instead of saying, “Go give grandma a hug good-bye!” say, “It’s time to go, let’s tell everyone good-bye.” This allows children the opportunity to choose if a touch such as a hug or a kiss will be part of this good-bye.
- In their personal care and hygiene. Teach children independence in taking care of their bodies, keeping in mind their developmental capabilities. Encourage independence with toileting and bathing. These habits build self-confidence and remind children they are in charge of their bodies.
Demonstrate and practice with children the words to say when someone is too far in their personal space such as, “Can you move over? You’re sitting too close.” Or, if someone is giving them a touch they do not want or like, “No thanks. I don’t want a hug right now.” Giving them a script to use beforehand will help them handle these situations as they arise.
Remember to be patient and take into account each child’s age and developmental stage. It will take time for children to implement personal space and boundary settings appropriately. Also, remember to praise them when you see they are making good choices respecting other’s boundaries and personal space!