Your one-year-old and personal space

When you’re using the bathroom in Adult World and someone knocks on the door, you can simply call out, “Occupied!” to ward off any handle-jiggling or door-opening attempts. When you’re using the bathroom in your home, you might find that, “Occupied!” will not only do you no good, it might actually encourage Baby to enter the bathroom. Why? They want to hang out with you! What does it matter that you’re using the bathroom? Baby uses the bathroom all the time when you two are together. What’s your problem?

Teaching Baby about personal space is going to be an ongoing process because they have spent all of their young life being really close to people, being picked up and held, and giving and receiving affection. It can be confusing to suddenly (or even not-so-suddenly!) learn that not everyone wants to be hugged or that some people don’t like when people are “too close” to them. However, it’s an important lesson to learn both as a social skill and a safety measure.

A first step you can take in teaching Baby about personal space is telling them what their physical personal space is. If they have a room of their own, a playroom, or a section of your room, you can show them that this space is totally theirs, a place where they can do things by themself in private.

Explain that their toys are theirs, just like your things are yours, and we never take things without permission. Sharing is wonderful, but it’s always important to talk before assuming that someone wants to share. The same rule can then be applied to being close or touching people. You can give your friend a hug, but you should ask first. Someone can get in your personal space bubble, but they should make sure it’s okay with you.

What’s a personal space bubble? Glad you asked! The best way to explain this to your little one might be to have them reach out their arms and see how far they reach. The space between their body and the tips of their fingertips is their “bubble.” Some people, like their parents, are allowed in the bubble, but if anyone else tries to get in their personal space bubble, they should learn to look for a trusted adult.

Ways that you can model personal space for Baby include things like asking for hugs or announcing when you’re going into your room to change your clothes in private. As Baby grows, you can establish more boundaries, like closed-door policies for using the bathroom or getting dressed. (You can start those actions now, but it’s likely Baby won’t notice it as a theme for a while.)

Most importantly through all of this, don’t forget to be positive and praise Baby when you notice them acknowledging personal space. If they knock on a door or asks before jumping on you in the morning, they are doing a great job of learning about personal space. Probably because they have such a great teacher!  

  • Innis, Gail. “Personal space: A social skill children need and adults can teach.” Michigan State University Extension. Michigan State University. December 31, 2012. Web.
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