Privacy Please! How to Teach Kids About Personal Boundaries

Image via Flickr/ Rob Pongsajapan

Whether they are at Grandma's house, school, or visiting with friends, your children need to understand personal boundaries and the importance of personal space.

A common complaint from parents with toddlers and preschoolers is how their children deal with personal boundaries. The moment you finally make time to use the bathroom or jump in the shower, you have a little one sitting outside the door, chatting away. Or, even worse, you have a little one barging in on you.

Sometimes, little kids just don't like to be left out. They also don't like to be left alone. So when Mommy disappears behind a closed door with a vague explanation of “I'll be out in a few minutes,” they begin a full-scale investigation into the matter. Suddenly, they are full of time-sensitive questions, and emergencies crop up every thirty seconds.

While many parents simply throw in the towel and accept defeat in the form of kids barging into the bathroom, this actually creates unrealistic expectations for children. People need privacy at times, and that's an important lesson for little ones.

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I am here to tell you that they can be taught to respect personal boundaries. Sure, it's upsetting when your 2-year-old cries outside the bathroom door (been there), but chances are he's just fine. And eventually, he'll learn to be patient.

Image via Flickr/ thedailyenglishshow

Establish privacy

When kids are learning to use the potty, they constantly have an audience in the bathroom. That becomes the norm for them. But as they become more independent, the goal is to use the potty without assistance. Talking about privacy in the bathroom during the potty-training process and gradually giving your child more and more space during the process is a great way to help your child internalize the importance of bathroom privacy. Some families don't mind multiple people in the bathroom at once, but children do need to learn that they need to give others space at school or when visiting someone else's house.

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It's never too late to discuss privacy with kids. Some kids get dressed in the middle of the hallway with no worries, while others want to have their door closed. Respect the boundaries that they establish and set your own privacy boundaries. My kids know that they can knock and ask a question if they need me, or wait for me outside the door, but they never attempt to open the door.

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Image via Flickr/ slightly everything

Knock first


A great rule for young kids is that you always knock first on a closed door. You wouldn't burst into your boss's office without knocking first, would you? So why should kids run in and out of closed doors without checking to see if someone else is in there first?

I have always told my kids that their rooms are their special places. We clean them together at least once a week, but other than that, they are in charge of their own spaces, and that includes establishing boundaries. My 5-year-old son prefers his door closed when he's getting dressed or having quiet time, and that means we all knock and wait for the OK before entering.

We also practice this in other places. When visiting their grandmother, for example, they always have to knock on a closed door and ask before going into her bedroom or any other area she deems her personal space.

Image via Flickr/ douglemoine

Visual cues

Visual reminders are great for little kids, and posting important concepts to the front door is a great way to practice those concepts each day. If you're looking right at it, you won't miss it!

Make a little personal-boundaries poster with a few visual cues. If entering the bathroom when someone else is using it is a problem, post a picture of a potty behind a door with a hand knocking on the door. If respecting a sibling's personal space in the bedroom (even if they share) is an issue, post a picture of a split room with a name on each side.

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Do you suffer from privacy issues in your home?

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Privacy Please! How to Teach Kids About Personal Boundaries

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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1 comment

  1. jon says:

    Every person, adult or child needs their own space at least once in a while. I used to go outside and hide under a big tree with branched that hid me from site! My Dad figured out where I was (it was right across the street from our apartment) so he let me be–I am grateful for that! To this day I do not like to be touched–I have no idea why and actually feel no reason to question it!

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