4-year-old with personal space issues - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 8 Old 03-21-2012, 10:41 AM - Thread Starter
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My DS will be 4 in April.  He's been in pre-K since October.  The preschool is great; however, DH and I are always getting talked to about our DS's behavior in school.  He's a very active boy, but a very sweet, smart boy. His teacher always tells me about his personal space issues at school.  He seems to bother the other kids and always seems to touch them.  It seems he can't contain himself.  They have been working with him on that and it seemed to have gotten better; however, recently he has been doing it again.  (Keep in mind we do have a new baby in the house, so it could be part of the adjusting.)  Now, the teacher says she can hear other kids telling him to stop, so now it's really bothering the other kids, if it wasn't already.  I take note when we're out with him around other kids and he seems to be like velcro to them.  He'll follow them around and get in their face, as if he is trying to make a friend.  I am boggled by this behavior because the kid acts like he's never around people! He's always around people; however, besides school, he is not really around other kids his age too much, so I wonder if that is part of it.  I wonder if he is unsure how to act around other kids his age, but then again, he's been around kids his age consistently for a few months now and should know better, I think.


Here's my dilemma....I have thought about a therapy evaluation (for a possible sensory issue) in the past but have put it off because I believe labels are given far too easily anymore, and I really wanted to give him time to mature.  (I've read about sensory issues and it seems he has a couple of symptoms but not enough for me to truly believe he has this issue.)I do think he is immature for his age and am hoping he grows out of it and learns.  On the other hand, he doesn't seem to be getting it just yet.  The thing that is really bothering me is that if he is bothering the kids, the kids won't like him and he can develop low self-esteem. He is such a cool kid when he's not behaving like that and he has the greatest personality.  He deserves to have a lot of friends.  He's very outgoing.


I guess my question is, is this normal behavior for a 3/4-year-old?  I know kids have issues with personal space but when I look around, I don't see other kids do what he does.  Does this behavior warrant therapy?


So confused on what to do and will take tips/advice/experiences.   

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#2 of 8 Old 03-21-2012, 08:20 PM
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Ehh, I'm not much help other than to say I have the same concerns about my 3.5 y/o DS who turns 4 in August. He is very, very active, very smart and sweet. But man, does he touch. I only recently convinced him that he cannot hug and kiss every child he meets. But he still views touch as a part of conversation, as a part of playing, all of it. He touches people all.the.time. He's not in preschool yet, so I don't yet have the deciding factor of whether it will help to hear it from people other than his parents. I, too, am fearful that he may have difficulty making friends because he comes off so... forward or something.. when he begins playing with someone. Our friends' kids love him and they get along so well, because they know him, but kids meeting him for the first time are clearly put off. 


Some other mamas here have sent me info before about SPD (sensory processing disorder) and DS certainly meets A LOT of that criteria but I , like you, am fearful of placing labels and think they are thrown around too often, too easily. 


Also, I think the whole not-touching-people thing is so difficult for him because there is so much touching at home. He was 2.5 when I had DD, so as far back as he can remember really, DD's been on my lap, on the breast, being carried, being kissed, etc. This has also meant extra kisses and cuddles for DS. And DH and I see each other so rarely anymore that we're often cuddling when we're with DS too. Other than that, we are new in the area and lack other friends and family, our social interactions are limited. I wonder if he just doesn't have enough exposure to life outside the house/family yet to completely understand.


Anyway, we are currently "practicing" personal space at home. "No one is going to touch or hold anyone for the next 5 minutes, and we're each going to have our own personal space. What would you like to do with yours?" .... I'll give DD blocks, he'll read a book, I'll read a book, DH makes lunch, or something. No one touches for 5 minutes. So far, we've had some success. It seems that touching is just such an impulsive thing for him, so natural it's part of our life, that he has to really, really think about not touching, KWIM? 


hug2.gifWe have decided to have him evaluated at age 4. An evaluation is just that... gives us an idea of where we stand. Then we can make a decision about what, if anything, needs to be done. It will also give us a better idea of what professionals think is, and isn't, typical of his age. 

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#3 of 8 Old 03-22-2012, 05:49 AM
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I don't really have any advice to give on this matter, per se...however, I can also lend a show of support. You're definitely not alone, here. My DS just turned six. He's shown this sort of behavior since he was around three or so, and it hasn't let off yet. He has serious issues with personal space and impulse control. He's one to always get right in your face when he's trying to talk to you, always clingy and very physical when he's seeking attention of any kind. Around kids, he does the same things, and has been known to yell in other kids' faces, grab arms to get attention, and knock them down sometimes, too. It's plain to see that the more average, well-adjusted children he encounters are uncomfortable with how he acts around them. We've talked about why this behavior needs to be changed many, many times...and he seems to get it when we're talking. But the moment we're out and about, he goes right back to it again.


I have always known that he would be "different", since he was in the womb. We haven't sought a diagnosis for any sensory issues, although I lived next door to a good friend for years whose now adult son has Asperger's. I already suspect ADHD, but I've felt there is more to it than just that. My neighbor told me God knows how many times that her son, J., was EXACTLY the same way my DS is at his age. Getting him tested for this sort of stuff? I don't know yet. I'm afraid of the stigma, sure...but even more than that, I'm worried that the doctors will just want to throw him onto half a dozen medications, and I'm very set against medicating children unless ABSOLUTELY necessary. Heck, I'm even set against medicating MYSELF unless it's absolutely warranted.


It's kind of like...yes, I'd like to see my son grow up more stable, and calm, and using appropriate behaviors, but at the same time, I don't want to turn him into a little zombie.

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#4 of 8 Old 03-22-2012, 09:40 AM
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I only recently convinced him that he cannot hug and kiss every child he meets. But he still views touch as a part of conversation, as a part of playing, all of it. He touches people all.the.time.


for the OP - there tends to be a NEW expectation that in years past never existed with young children - "personal space" and what that means now


I don't know if your child does or does not have an issue or sensory problem but I will tell you things are handled differently then they use to be and much (IMO) is contributing to this "personal space" problem/"issue"


If you speak to an older (experienced preschool teacher) you may find things were handled differently in the past - being in another child's face is certainly problematic and does warrant intervention but at the same time we are sending extremely mixed signals to young children all the time and now giving them "adult expectation" we never use to give- with your new baby, I am sure family and friends have been visiting and expressing welcomes (physical gestures) and your young child sees this---what is normal for adult suddenly no longer is for children---?????


we see people touching ALL the time, and yet we say NO to a child - we shake hands, hug, kiss yet NO NO NO and we see and do this with our friends but you can't to yours-------what are small children to think?


we (as adults) often greet with physical gestures and even some teachers do the same, but now if a small child goes to do so, it's a personal space issue- what use to be normal exceptable behavior to some now is not! we expect children to only model certain behaviors 


I keep seeing more and more of this and I am at a loss to understand how society keeps sending these mixed messages and expect a child to not do as many adults do- crazy!


I know more and more parents (in preschool) setting expect and want children to have NO physical contact with each other but some is taken to an extreme-IMO




 I wonder if he is unsure how to act around other kids his age, but then again, he's been around kids his age consistently for a few months now and should know better, I think.


he SHOULD be unsure - he is not even 4!!!!!- this is not a skill that should be mastered at this age- does that mean he as a "issue"? or is it the others around that really do?

this age is a learning time- if the school sees such a problem, maybe they have a problem here


he sees (I am assuming) those coming to visit engage him, touch him, be close to him, etc.... he is modeling behaviors he sees yet is being placed in a situation and told it is unacceptable and he most conform 


How engaging are the other children he is around? Is he with most that still do parallel play?


What is the school doing? What are they doing to address this? How do they get the children to be "friends"?





What happened to children learning these skill without the thought that this is an "issue"?



ETA- we spend the first few years as parents "engaging" children, talking with them, touching them, etc and at a magical age (what yours is now) we say don't do this to others! I just don't get dizzy.gif



my DS is not like yours but we deal with "issues" similar to this (he talked in sentences at a year) - my DS hates for the most part children his age (turned 4 in Jan)- he hates and has for soooooooo long now, when he talks to another child and they don't even answer him- he is just starting to find some in his age group that do talk but for the most part we keep still finding many children are so shy and hard to warm up to that he just moves on in social situations to other children


he goes towards older children and adults and finds happiness in friendships that are on the same mutual level-those that are engaging with him, not just physical - we are finding it more and more rare for him to play with his peers because of this--and we don't see this as an "issue"

conversation is very important to our DS and lack there of really turns my DS off


when we are in social setting (play ground / story time, etc) he is 90% time not with his immediate age group


we also have found children that are being parented that are not into "personal space" - non contact and that works for us----there is a time for learning about "personal space" when age appropriate - we feel showing affection is normal and should be encouraged within safe guidelines 


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#5 of 8 Old 03-22-2012, 07:20 PM
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I just want to say that this thread is a huge comfort to me. Ds is in a gymnastics class is becoming really bothersome to the girls 'cause he keeps touching them all. the. time. but we haven't figured out how to explain it to him in a way that is appropriate. The teacher tries "everyone keeps their hands to themselves" but it's not working. I agree with pp that we give a lot of mixed messages on this. I want to keep ds being affectionate so making black & white no touching rules feels wrong.


I guess I'm just saying that it's a relief to see that it is probably somewhat normal for boys (& girls?) at this age.


As for school - well, this is just one of the reasons we are largely leaning towards homeschool to start.

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#6 of 8 Old 03-23-2012, 05:15 AM
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the OP also does not say (but I have found) that most children that have been in "care" since birth are FAS less touchy of others and also are great a sitting and "going with the program" so to say- we don't know if the majority of the children this child are with have been in care and use to the "personal space" issue  

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#7 of 8 Old 03-24-2012, 05:00 AM
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Sounds really normal. I had to coach ds when he was about 3 or 4 to verbally introduce himself and verbally ask another child to play because he tended to approach them and kind of prod them to try to get them to engage. Some kids didn't mind but many thought being touched by a strange child meant they were being hit (he really was not being rough or hitting them). It's a difficult age because kids are so unequal with verbal skills. My ds (after being coached) could approach another kid, say "Hi, my name is ___, want to play?" But much of the time the other child couldn't/wouldn't answer.


Ds would also act really silly in front of strangers (and probably had them averting their eyes, wondering what his diagnosis was). Turned out he was trying to make them laugh. Since he was very verbal, I helped him learn a few jokes as a more acceptable way to get the result he wanted.

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#8 of 8 Old 03-29-2012, 05:05 AM
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Hi. It sounds like you are a very caring parent, and I understand your reticence about seeking a professional evaluation because you don't want to 'label' your son at 4. Was he like this before he started pre-K? Or before the baby was born?  Good, professional support can be priceless (the emphasis needs to be on 'good'), but you might want to try my midwife's homespun secret solution first if you haven't already. This has been my trick in many different child phases and situations: It seems easy but it is NOT at all easy in today's world.  Slowing Down, Rhythm, Diet and Attention. It can work like magic. It takes a minimum of 3 days and as long as 3 weeks.   You'll most certainly need the help of others if you have a new baby in the house. But it will be worth it, if you can help him connect better to himself and others and avoid having him labelled or put on superfluous medication.  If there are no known medical imbalances and your family relationships are otherwise supportive and caring, it might be worth a try.  It looks like this: Slow Down: Cancel all extra appointments for him (even cancel pre-K if that is a stressor, organize help at home for you); Rhythm: wake him up at the same time every day, eat breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner at Exactly the Same Time every day, Seriously!! Develop a bedtime ritual for this experiment and do it every night, even if it is a mini- song or simply breastfeeding the baby while he falls asleep next to you; Diet: radically reduce or eliminate sugar, cook mild meals, mostly vegis and fruit; Attention: eliminate all media, substitute  really focusing attention on him for short periods of time throughout the day, play a board game, listen to his stories, draw or paint sitting next to him with complete attention to him (NOT EASY for grown-ups to do!). Even 20 minutes three times a day can make a huge difference to a 4-year-old. At the end, you will sure know more about his state of mind, and that will help no matter what the future brings. And, he will have benefitted, and you can ease up on the 'scheduling' -- until the next phase :).  I'd be interested to know what happens….

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