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Social Skills- personal space and touch

Having a good understanding of personal space helps everyone feel more comfortable in social situations. It also gives way to teaching that consent is needed to be in someone else’s personal space. Tips and tricks: Explain that we all have an invisible bubble around them called their personal space. You can show the size as being roughly an arm length away. So put your hand on their shoulder and keep your arm out stretched, this is a general rule for keeping personal space.

Explain why having personal space is important. You can demonstrate this or role play this. If you stand too far away from someone they may not think you are interested or they may not hear you. If you stand too close or touch someone they may feel uncomfortable.

Act out what personal space looks like in different scenarios. The rules for this will be different depending on the relationship. This is a good opportunity to discuss space and touch for different people in their lives. This can be extended to include the types of conversations that are appropriate for different people as well.

To work on specific social rules for different relationships you need to show this clearly. Draw a circle and write the child's name in the middle. Draw circles around this, as many as needed. In the first circle write all the people that are closest to the child. This is usually mum, dad, siblings but there could be others. The next circle usually includes extended family and close family friends. The next, includes friends, the next might be teachers or other trusted adults. It is a good idea to add police and other helpful adults. The last circle will have people we meet, shop assistants etc.

It is helpful to colour code the levels so you can make quick and easy reference to what the social rules are. For example when in a shop, you could remind your child that the shop assistant is in a yellow zone which would mean no hugs, just smile and say hello.

Write what the rules are for each zone next to the circles.

You can adjust this to any social skill that you need to work on. It could be how we greet people who have different relationships with us. Or there could be topics that your child has been talking about that are not appropriate for someone they have just met. You can add rules to the zones. You can also discuss how someone could be in a zone, but as the relationship changes their zone will change too. It is adaptable to what you need.

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