What’s inside this article: Helpful information for teaching children about what personal space is, and how to respect personal space based on the relationships you have with others. Includes books, a free printable social story, and activity ideas to help children better understand the story.
Sometimes, children struggle to understand certain social norms, such as personal space. A personal space social story can help them better understand the different boundaries that exist depending on the relationship you have with someone.
It’s important for kids to understand and respect personal space because it helps keep them safe and it helps them and others feel comfortable.
Children with poor spatial awareness sometimes struggle with personal space boundaries, and may need additional help building those skills.
Social stories are a great visual tool that you can use to explain or suggest appropriate behavior. They’re frequently used to teach social-emotional skills to autistic children.
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Introduce the Concept of Personal Space
Does your child know what personal space is?
One great way to introduce the concept of personal space to your child is with a children’s book. Julia Cook has over one hundred children’s books for social-emotional learning.
Her book, Personal Space Camp, tells a story about a little boy who frequently invaded personal space.
You can play this video to your child of the author reading this book. The actual reading of the story starts at about 1:14.
Personal Space Social Story
Next up – to bring the concept home and teach it to your child, is the social story.
This personal space social story covers several main concepts relating to personal space.
You can download the story at the bottom of this post.
- The idea of having your own “bubble”.
- Explaining that you don’t enter other people’s space or allow them to enter yours without permission
- How your relationship with someone affects personal space.
The story illustrates colorful circles around a boy, explaining how different types of relationships fall into different circles. (You can explain that the purple circle is like the hula hoop in the story Personal Space Camp)
It explains that different amounts of personal space are appropriate for different people.
The download available here includes 4 versions of the story, each illustrated using different skin tones/gender.
Helping Your Child Understand The Personal Space Social Story
The best way to help your child understand the social story is to involve activities around the concepts of the story that will develop comprehension.
Simply reading the story probably won’t be enough to help your child understand the concept of personal space, especially if this is something they really struggle with.
Here are some activity ideas to go along with your story
- Visualize your personal circle with a hula hoop: Putting a hula hoop around your child’s waist is a great way to help them visualize what their personal circle looks like. Explain that no one should enter the space within the hula hoop with them except for people in their blue, and maybe green circles – and that’s only with permission.
- Draw and label your own circles: Use a big piece of poster board so you have a lot of room and draw your own circles. Put your child’s name in the middle and color it purple. Then, have them name people in their lives and which circle they belong to. Fill the names in the circles as you go.
- Make a match game or flashcards: Cut paper into rectangles and write the names of different people, either real people or fictional examples and have your child either match them to the correct circle or tell you which color they belong to.
Understanding the Difference Between Complete Strangers & Helpers
It can be a little tricky for kids to understand the difference between a community helper and a complete stranger, especially if they’re a rigid thinker.
The concept for police, firefighters, paramedics, etc. is easier to clarify than different types of helpers. For example, plumbers, electricians, cashiers, waitresses, greeters, etc are easy to mix up with the dark red strangers.
We stress that you never talk to or touch strangers, which is an important thing for children to know in order to keep them safe. Especially if they’re known to enter other people’s personal boundaries.
However, children must also understand that sometimes we need to interact with strangers in different settings where they’re working – such as stores, restaurants, or even in our home like in the case of a plumber.
When you’re out and about – ask your child to identify what color circle different strangers fall into. Red helpers, or dark red strangers? This will help your child generalize the idea of helpers by knowing to look for common indicators, for example, uniforms.
Are you ready to download the personal space social story?Personal Space Social Narrative