Knowing how close or far away to stand from other people is one of our many social skills. For most of us, we don’t have to think about this, we just know. For some children, this may not happen naturally and they may require support to understand how far or close to stand to someone and why this is important.
Personal body space is the imaginary ‘space bubble’ that surrounds our bodies. We like to keep this area to ourselves most of the time. If people enter our personal body space we might feel uncomfortable and move away from the person. The complexity of personal body space deepens when we explore different relationships in our lives. The space bubble is smaller with our immediate family, meaning that we can stand closer to them and feel safe and comfortable. With strangers and people we don’t see as often we need to stand further away. Other factors are also important, including age, gender, culture and emotions.
We don’t just have personal space around our bodies, we may have it on other spaces too. An imaginary zone forms around our desk space, table space at dinner and around us while we are on public transport. When someone invades our personal body space they become a ‘space invader’. If this person is a stranger, we may even feel scared as well as uncomfortable.
When teaching personal body space rules to children we can use our arms to show the distance you stand from someone. A fully outstretched arm represents the distance between people in your outer circles and the distance between the end of your hand and your elbow can represent the distance you can stand with people in your inner circle. This can be modelled by placing your elbow on your hip and reaching your arm towards the person. We can also tune children in to other people’s body language when the child is too close and the person feels uncomfortable. Looking at spaces between characters in books and on television can also be useful. If your child participates in pretend play you can demonstrate personal space using characters and toys.