Activity Follow-Up: Teaching Personal Space

  Redirection and interaction are the main methods used to help a child that is being too hands on with their peers. I find that it helps to do some direct instruction with children that have a more difficult time keeping their hands to themselves.

  A few weeks ago, I posted a game that we played to practice respecting personal space.

Square painted in grass outside for personal space game.

  Afterward the children asked to play it a few more times, so I know they enjoyed it. I also saw a reduction in moments where children were inappropriately getting close to or touching a peer. At GFC we define "getting into someone's space" as: any unwanted touch to a person or their belongings. It is not a hug that both people want, high fives, fist bumps, helping to put on shoes or do a zipper, sharing a toy, or playing tag. Being helpful and friendly are encouraged. :-)

  Unwanted touching was happening mainly during play. I needed to find a way to bridge the skill from the game into their everyday play. What we ended up doing was changing the song and I have been randomly singing it once or twice a day. The new song:

  Playing with my friends
  Playing with my friends
  I can stay in my space with my friends
  Red light, Stop!

  It is a simple change that gives them a moment to stop and reflect on their social interaction, but does not cause a large disturbance in their play. It also gives them time to positively reward themselves for playing safely or for recognizing that they were touching a peer or their toy in an unexpected manner. They are given a chance to develop self control on a specific skill imposed by an adult.

  Another thing that I have tried (and liked) is just using the end of the song when I see a social interaction turning sour. Sometimes children just need that toy right now or know how to do it right - they jump head first into an altercation, not yet understanding the consequences that may occur. By singing a quick "Red light, Stop!" the mood stays light and the children automatically stop and reflect, because that is what they have learned to do when they hear that cue.

  Over the last few weeks, we have had less hitting and pushing, less grabbing toys, and less yelling. There has also been a drop in "time outs" (or time in, or taking a break, or whatever you want to call it). Taking time to discuss problems one-on-one takes much more time away from their very important play. Plus, I don't want "taking a break" to be seen as punishment. Everyone needs a break sometimes and I want my students to learn when and how to do that.

  Once I see students practicing these skills on their own, we will work more diligently on vocalizing our concerns. Currently, we are practicing, "Please be careful." "Can I help you?" "Can I play with you?" and "You can have it when I'm done."

What is one way you teach children self control?

Update: It's been a few days since doing this new practice of random check ins. The children are reflecting on their actions! Success! What is really interesting is that students who have a more difficult time keeping their hands to themselves are beginning to sing the song to themselves while playing, calmly look around after the "Stop!" and smile to themselves. I love that a fun activity gave children a useful tool. :-)