5 Tips to Help Your Child Maintain Personal Boundaries and Social-Distance in Public

by | Last updated Feb 25, 2021

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Personal boundaries don’t come naturally to everyone.

Personal boundaries are especially befuddling for kiddos with Autism, ADHD, and Sensory Processing differences. It’s often just not as apparent to them when they’re standing a little too close to people.

This can be especially frustrating for parents in public. And it’s easy to feel judged by other shoppers when your child displays something other than neurotypical behavior. 

If you can relate, you may want to take a look at our recent post, Reframing the Bad Mom Story to Feel Better About Your Parenting. It’s for any parent who feels self-conscious when taking their kiddo out in public. 

Personal boundaries struggles were stressful enough before COVID-19. Now, people are more protective of their personal space than ever before. That innocent surprise bump in the aisle at the grocery store may now cause alarm and, possibly, even slightly embarrassing reactions.

We hope these tips equip you and your child for ways to help prevent these uncomfortable moments as well as recover gracefully. 

5 Things you can do to help your child maintain personal boundaries and practice social-distancing in public

1. Go for a relaxed, socially-distanced walk or hike. Walking along a path at your neighborhood park can provide a really low-pressure opportunity to practice social distancing. Try walking near each other, but not close enough to touch unless both your arms are outstretched. Walk close enough to hear each other talk so your child begins to recognize that they can still visit with you and with others without touching.

2.Use a hula hoop to roleplay. In this post about body space awareness, we suggested a few ways to use hula hoops to appropriate spacing in public.

  • Use a hula hoop as a visual for the size of a personal bubble. Practice walking next to each other, each standing inside your respective hula hoops. When your hoops touch, you can remind your child that this is just the right amount of space to leave between you and others.
  • Have the child climb through hula hoops in different directions without touching them

3. Create relationship level labels. In the same article, we suggest creating a drawing that looks like a target to help define how personal space can change based on your relationship with someone. Start with the circle in the center — family goes there. Then friends in the second, acquaintances in the third, and strangers are in the next and final ring. Talk with your child about how much personal space is appropriate for each. 

4. Model what it looks like to get “too close” to a stranger. Try playing a game with your child. Create a few different scenarios and try acting them out together. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • How close to stand to a person standing in line in front of you at the grocery store.
  • How close to get when your child wants to see a toy that another shopper is standing in front of. Practice saying things like, “Excuse me,” and, “Is it ok if I look at this?”
  • How to wait when your child wants to use something at the park that another child is already enjoying. For example, waiting until the other child is already off the slide before your child starts sliding down.

5. Practice getting too close. Have fun with this! Practice standing much too close to each other and even bumping into each other. Show what it looks like not to have personal boundaries. Talk about why this is fine to do at home but how out in the world, we need to stay a little further away. Warning: this one might cause laughter!

Over time, these activities will hopefully help your child start to develop a sense of appropriate social distance. But even as positive behaviors start to develop, you may notice a slip here and there. That’s ok! From time to time, that slide may just look way too fun to wait for. Or that toy may be way too shiny not to run up to and grab (bumping into unawares strangers in the process!). So what can you do to handle those potentially awkward moments?

How to handle too-close moments

These moments can present great learning opportunities. Rather than chiding, try taking a deep breath and then patiently saying something like, “How about we say sorry for bumping into her?” If you take a casual, friendly approach, it could help both of you feel ‘lighter’ about these little social blunders.

If you feel you need a little extra support, we are here for you. Get in touch with us so we can learn more about your family.


The Clear Child Psychology team

We’re Here to Help 

Schedule a free 20-min Discovery Session to start getting support for your family’s unique path and learn more about our coaching and consultation options.

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