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When you have a child with ADHD there are many things you find yourself repeating. At times I wonder if I should record my lectures and phrases and just press play when they’re needed. One common phrase that used to be repeated in our house everyday multiple times a day was PERSONAL SPACE. Why is it so hard for children with ADHD to respect personal space, and how do you teach them to give others space?

I have three kids with ADHD and I’ve discovered a few reasons why they fail to respect personal space:

Lack of Social Skills

Social Skills deficit is quite common for children with ADHD. While most people intuitively grow up learning social cues, those with ADHD don’t catch the cues that we feel uncomfortable when they step in too close or sit an inch away on the couch literally breathing down our necks. A child with ADHD won’t notice that his peer steps back during a conversation. In fact, he’ll probably step in closer to drive his point home. 

And if you’re two years old and you’re sticking your hands into a woman’s pocket you just met she’ll most likely think it’s cute. If you’re ten years old she won’t think it’s cute, she’ll think it’s creepy. If you’re thirty and still sticking your hands into a stranger’s pocket she’ll most likely call the police or punch you in the face.

Small Personal Bubble

It may be difficult for children with ADHD to understand the concept of personal space if their personal bubble is very small. They don’t see a need to give more personal space when they feel comfortable getting in close. They don’t recognize a sense of discomfort in others because they feel completely comfortable. My youngest son, for example, has a very small, practically non-exsistent personal bubble, whereas his brothers’ personal bubbles are much larger. 

But I’m Having Fun

Any kid can get caught up in the moment and get focused on what she is doing at the expense of others. I’ve found this to be even more true for kids with ADHD because of the impulse control element. I often hear my sons say, “But I’m having fun!” while at the same time they fail to recognize their brothers are angry at the invasion of their personal space.

How then can you teach your child to respect personal space?

Role Play

Sadly, our kids learn the hard way through peer rejection and angry siblings that they are getting in to close. We can take these opportunities to teach our children that these rejections don’t have to continue. When something happens where your child has failed to respect personal space, take the opportunity to walk through the situation and role play a positive outcome showing her how to keep appropriate distance. Express confidence that she can do this in the future.

Visual examples

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Learning comes in a variety of ways and using visual examples is a powerful way of learning. A couple of ways of teaching a child about personal space are as follows:

Use a hula hoop to demonstrate a personal bubble.

Have family members connect Twizzlers together to represent their personal bubble (mine is 3 Twizzlers).

Make some fun videos to demonstrate positive and negative examples of personal space and review them with your child.

Repetition

Understand that as with all learning, it takes time and a lot of repetitive teaching on our part for a child with ADHD to respect personal space. 

And while I use the term “respect” don’t confuse their lack of respect as disrespect. Remember that our children are struggling with so many things that accompany ADHD and personal space is just one of those aspects. 

I’ve seen with my own eyes, however, that there is hope and learning does happen after years and daily reminders. And yes, I still find myself saying the words “personal space” but not nearly as often as I used to. 

Now if I could just teach my cat to give me a little more personal space . . .

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