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Question

My 3 yr old son is energetic, over the top, etc (spirited as defined in "raising your spirited child"). Everything is a challenge with him. I'm having a problem teaching him to value other's space and he just can't seem to stop getting too close to people or touching people. For example: we were standing in a line and the man ahead (that we didn't know) was chatting to us, my son took this as familiar I guess as he started hugging this man's leg and getting silly around him. Another example is that my son loves babies but he just can't seem to stop touching/hugging/kissing them no matter how many times I remind him "no touching". I think he just doesn't understand why anyone would want this so forgets. I find my self saying "don't touch anyone" but that's not realistic either. Advice??

Answer

Christine Hierlmaier Nelson Replied: It sounds like your child has a spirited or what I call "feisty" temperament. A feisty child needs a consistent routine and parental expectations as well as leadership opportunities to channel all of that energy. Stay calm and in the moment, one of the primary elements of patience that leads to good communication. What he also needs from you is an understanding of social expectations regarding personal space. Take advantage of his natural helpfulness and distractability and steer him toward a chore or activity when you are in public. Have him push a kid's shopping cart or carry a tote. Keep his hands busy with a calculator or pad of paper and crayon. Have him pick items off the shelf for you and hand items to the cashier. Continue to talk to him about personal space. Give him alternatives such as "We pat the baby nicely" or "We say ‘nice baby'" or "We hold the baby's hand." Show him how to "high five" or shake hands with adults rather than getting too close. Have him practice with you and a baby doll before you get into real situations. When your son gets too friendly — and it will happen until he takes on the new habits I've suggested — get down on his level and get him to look at you while you ask him to help you with a task or do an activity. This could be anything from holding your shopping list to showing you how he can stand on one leg or recite his ABCs. Stay consistent with this process. Stay calm, redirect and model good manners. Your son will soon catch on!
Posted On 2007-11-28 10:31:07
Michelle P. Maidenberg Replied: Your son is three which developmentally naturally makes him curious, inquisitive, and attention seeking. He may even get over stimulated by touch (sensory related). It's important early on to teach children about nonverbal cues and personal space. It's never too late for them to learn these concepts. The way to accomplish that is for example to physically go really far away from him and then get really close to him "getting in his face." Ask him how that feels. If he can't find the words, provide them for him. For example, "Getting especially close to someone or touching someone, especially if they didn't expect or ask for it can feel scary and/or uncomfortable." Then link it to his behaviors -- when you touched the man at the grocery store he may have felt the same way. I would ask him why he chose to grab the man's leg. Was he trying to get his attention, make him laugh, etc. Then encourage him to come up with other ways to accomplish this. Problem-solve this with him. "What other way besides touching him, could you have made him laugh?" "Let's talk about ways we could get people to laugh without touching them and potentially making them feel scared or uncomfortable." Also, teach the concept of nonverbal cues. For example you may express, "Did you notice what the baby did when you touched her?" Yes, she cried. Follow it up with, "When someone cries or pushes you away what does that tell you about how they felt about being touched?" "It's important to notice someone's reaction to you touching them and it gives you an idea how they felt about being touched." Your son could easily learn that a "no" "stop" "get off" "crying" "wincing", etc. are a clue that he has to stop because he's causing the person discomfort. Also, assess with him how he might feel if someone touched him and he didn't want them to and what his reactions may be. This allows him to be in the other person's shoes and fosters empathy within him -- an important lesson for all children.
Posted On 2007-11-27 00:06:51
Trish Booth, MA Replied: Preschoolers have to learn to respect personal boundaries. That task is made more difficult when a child is energetic and physically expressive. There is no "fix" for this, however, a combination of approaches and the normal developmental process will help. First, help him gauge personal boundaries by explaining that he shouldn't get closer to someone than the length of his arm without asking if it is OK. You can role play that with him. You will also have to remind him of the "arm's length rule" just before entering a public or play situation. Giving him a concrete, and always available, measurement will help him better understand the concept. Even if it doesn't work a lot of the time, "Remember, arm's length rule" gives you an alternative to "Don't touch her." Toddlers and preschoolers often are overenthusiastic about babies. Rather than always saying, "Stop touching/hugging/kissing," teach him one thing he can do to the baby. Try having him stroke a baby's arm with his fingertips or open hand. Have him practice on your arm and his own arm so that knows how to stroke gently. Explain that babies like this kind of touch and praise his gentle touching when he does it on your arm. Name the stroking "soft touch," "gentle touch," or something he comes up with. Then, each time before he can get close to a baby, have him show you what he is going to do. That way your corrections will be around "ONLY soft touch, no hugging," and "That's enough soft touching." Finally, your son may need or want more physical attention than he is getting. Throughout the day, before he gets wound-up physical, offer him a hug or quick snuggle. That models both asking to enter personal space and giving appropriate physical attention.
Posted On 2007-10-17 10:12:24
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