Signs & Symptoms

Body Space Awareness

Is your child standing too close?

Children who have challenges with body space awareness often struggle to judge appropriate social space. They may bump into people. Sometimes they might overdo it when offering a hug or a high-five. They might hug too hard or linger too long. Children with these challenges may run into a play situation or a group of children gathered together, without checking to see if their presence is welcome. A child with this difficulty might talk too loud or too close to a person’s face. He may play too rough, not realizing that other children are uncomfortable or upset.

Alternately, some with these issues relate to having trouble knowing where their own bodies are in space. Body space awareness has an impact on coordination, ability to know how hard or soft to push on something (grading pressure), and the speed of movement. These kids may seem like a ‘bull in a china shop,’ often breaking toys or school supplies accidentally.

Children who struggle with knowing where their bodies are might bump into walls, run into windows, and may appear very clumsy. Some kids with these challenges are described as floppy. It appears as if they are not comfortable in their own skin. Kids with proprioception problems are often awkward physically and may have challenges with some sports or athletics.

What do challenges with Body Space Awareness look like?

  • Hearing people say, “Don’t stand so close to me?”
  • Having challenges reading social cues?
  • Getting too rough with peers and ignoring their discomfort?
  • Described as a ‘close talker?’
  • Hugging others too much?
  • Acting excessively shy or in his own world?
  • Seeming oblivious to peers’ reactions to what he says or does?
  • Being described as loud and obnoxious?
  • Bumping into everything or everyone?
  • Sitting slumped over and appearing lethargic?
  • Pressing too light or hard on the paper when writing?
  • Appearing clumsy and awkward?

Why is Body Space Awareness happening?

When a kiddo is a bull in a china shop, there can be a few things going on. Sustained Attention: Sometimes sustained attention could be the problem. A child may have trouble with personal space because he does not consistently listen to and follow the rules of a game. Social communication involves reading nonverbal cues like personal space, facial expression and body language. Having the ability to read nonverbal cues helps with body space awareness. Proprioception is the awareness of where your body is in space, as informed by the muscles and joints. It affects a child’s ability to determine the amount of pressure he or she exerts. Children may stand too close to a peer in front of them because they are not sensing where their body is in relation to others. They may give a hug that is too tight due to poor understanding of body space and physical pressure. This skill is easily taught. If your child is struggling, an occupational therapist can help.

How can I manage Body Space Awareness at home?

If your child struggles with personal space awareness, it is likely that something is going on that requires some attention or support.

Disabilities: Often, children with ADHD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have difficulties with personal space.

Sensory problems: Some children with sensory sensitivities, which are associated with ADHD or ASD, may have a tendency to bump into people or to jump around impulsively, appearing as if driven by a motor.

Social skills problems: The skills of reading nonverbal cues and developing appropriate body space can and should be taught to kids if the skills are not developing naturally.

Therapy: An evaluation may be necessary if the problems are significant. Therapy, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Occupational Therapy, and Psychotherapy may be indicated in order to help your child learn how to maintain appropriate personal space and to gain an understanding of non-verbal social cues.

Suggestions to help increase your child’s body space awareness

  • Use a hula hoop as a visual for the size of a personal bubble
  • Read ‘Personal Space Camp’ [1]
  • Watch videos/look at pictures, and have the child identify the emotions in the story characters
  • Practice observing social cues, such as look at eyebrows, mouth, eyes, hands, body posture, tone and volume of voice
  • Encourage the child to look for clues in peers that the peer is uncomfortable, such as taking a step back or showing an annoyed facial expression
  • Create a target and label different people in a child’s life and how each ‘level’ of relationship is different. Start with the circle in the center, with family (center), friends (second), acquaintances (third), and strangers (final) and discuss the different ways to interact with them, including how much personal space is appropriate for each
  • Have the child climb through hula hoops in different directions without touching them
  • Do yoga to help build body space awareness
  • Give a child a sticker and have them place it on a part of their body without looking (i.e. nose, forehead, knee)
  • Practice heavy work activities, such as wheelbarrow walks, wall push-ups, and jumping (these activities give input to the body to help feel where they are in space)

How can Clear Child Psychology help with Body Space Awareness?

If your child is struggling with this symptom to the point that it is getting in the way of his or her learning, relationships, or happiness, it’s time to seek professional help.

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