My daughter recently started a mommy and me gymnastics class. We got there early, as we do for most things. As I was getting Caroline ready and setting our things down, another little girl (also in the class) came up to Caroline. As little ones do, she got right up in Caroline’s face (maybe an inch or two away). This is pretty typical behavior for toddlers, as they just don’t have a concept of personal space yet.
Caroline doesn’t usually know what to do. She just sits there and keeps looking down, for the most part. She is obviously a bit uncomfortable when this happens. I try to explain to her that this little girl is trying to say hello. I tell Caroline that she can say hello or wave if she’d like to. I also tell her that she can backup if she’d like. The other child has good intentions, so I never choose to say anything about their proximity directly to them. I also think it is the other parents responsibility, and not mine so I like to not “correct” other children if at all possible.
Can I just say that I was so pleasantly surprised that the mom came running after her child and told her to backup!??! She reminded her about “personal space” and another persons’ “bubble”. She even physically moved her child if/when her child wasn’t listening. This is THE FIRST TIME I have ever
seen another mom address the situation! And this happens all the time. This is really a very common thing to happen with children. The child did this a few times, and each time the mom addressed it immediately. It was obviously something they were actively working on together, and this child was only 2.5 years old. It was such a relief to not have to deal with the issue on my own.
I was so happy to see this happening, that I thanked the mom and told her how much I loved that she was teaching this concept! There is a little girl who visits next door to us (she is much older: 4 or 5), and, at her age, she still does this to Caroline all the time. I never know what to say to her, and her grandparents and parents never address the situation. We all know how uncomfortable it is to have someone right up in your face. As a 1.5 year old, I can only imagine how uncomfortable it feels, as she doesn’t have any clue what to do about it. Now I feel very empowered to address the situation next time, as I have great words to use.
I plan on incorporating the term personal space to Caroline at an early age, in fact we may even start introducing it now. Here is how I plan on teaching the concept:
1. Visuals: I think a great visual for toddlers (and something they always have with them), is using an arms length distance. When she meets someone knew or is playing with someone, this is a good concept to start discussing. Another great visual is a hula hoop. You can have your child stand in a hula hoop and show them the area of personal space that belongs to them. Give them words to use for when someone does invade their space. We will teach her that she can ask the other child to “backup please”. We will also teach her that she can backup if she’d rather.
2. Incorporating this into discussion: The sooner we introduce concepts, the better! This is such a hard concept to learn, as sometimes it is ok to be in someones personal space (if you are invited, or invite someone). With that in mind, I am going to be starting now (@ 1.5 years old). I know this will be hard for Caroline to grasp, so the more she hears it the easier she’ll catch on. Caroline doesn’t tend to run up to other children and invade their personal space, so we won’t have a lot of this in discussion until this becomes more of an issue, however.
3. Looking for examples: A great way to teach this concept, is by looking at pictures in books. We can discuss the space around characters in a book. Real life examples are great as well. When someone does invade her personal space, I can talk to Caroline about this and how it made her feel. When a positive interaction occurs we can also talk about that.
There is no sense in waiting for this to be an issue! We are going to try and be proactive about this before it even starts! In the meantime, while this happening TO Caroline, and her space keeps getting invaded, I will try to better model how she can handle the situation so she learns to stand up for herself a bit more. And thank you again, to the wonderful mom at gymnastics that took the initiative to teach this to her daughter and address the situation in the moment!