Understanding and respecting personal boundaries when interacting with peers is an important social skill that all kids should have. Being aware of their own space and the space of other children helps kids build healthy and safe friendships. Kids should also understand that personal boundaries are not only physical. Knowing that their decisions as well as the decisions of their peers should be respected helps kids avoid issues such as bullying and peer pressure.
Adults should teach kids about personal space using simple, age-appropriate language. One way to explain the concept of personal space to younger kids is to present the idea of everyone having an invisible bubble around them where they feel safe. Children will probably be able to recall a time when a friend was too close to them and they felt uncomfortable. Explain to them that in that moment, that child was in their personal space. By engaging kids in a conversation about their own personal space, adults can get them to realize that other they should be aware of the personal space of their peers.
Kids should be taught that they don't always have to submit to the requests of their peers. While having a giving or agreeable nature is a good quality to have, there are certain situations where refusal is the best option. Role play is a valuable tool in teaching kids about standing up to peer pressure. Adults can present children with various peer situations and guide them in deciding when saying "no" to their peers is OK. On the reverse side of peer pressure, adults should discuss the importance of not pressuring others to do things.
Books about Personal Space
Children's literature provides a good platform for discussing new topics with kids. Your local library likely has some good children's books that address boundaries and personal space. "Personal Space Camp" by Julia Cook is a popular book. It stars Louis, a young boy who struggles with respecting the personal space of his peers. When he gets sent to the principal's office for Personal Space Camp, Louis mistaking it for Space Camp, thinks it will be a breeze because he considers himself a space expert. As the principal engages Louis and other students in activities that teach them to respect the personal space of others, Louis begins to learn the difference between personal space and outer space. Though he struggles at first, Louis begins to catch on and ends up a "Double Space Expert."
Books about Peer Pressure
There are also a number of books that deal with the issues of saying "no" to friends and standing up to peer pressure and bullying. "The Story of the Little Piggy Who Couldn't Say No" by Sabine Ludwig tells of a little pig's journey to go swimming. On her way, she encounters a number of friends who ask, some of them in a not-so-nice way, if they can borrow her supplies. Before she reaches the water, she trips and falls, loses her temper and finally stands up for herself after her friends laugh at her. Using humor, this book encourages kids who have trouble with boundaries and assertiveness. After reading a book, such as this, that deals with boundaries, encourage discussion or allow for quiet reflection.