My kindergarten-age daughter is larger for her age than other kids. She’s very physical with other kids and likes to pick them up a lot. It’s becoming a big problem at school and her teachers are saying this has to stop. How can I help her?
MOM: I think that these are boundary issues that children need to learn and be taught as they grow up. Some kids have a natural sense of boundaries, but other children don’t.
MOLLY: How do you teach them that?
MOM: First of all, you have to start talking to them about how people need their own space and their own body privacy and that needs to be respected. It’s not okay to pick kids up like that, and generally other kids don’t want to be picked up like that.
MOLLY: Even though the kid is just trying to be friendly, showing her friends that she likes them?
MOM: That’s right: it’s not done in a hostile way. Children with this behavior don’t know how else to express how much they like the other kids.
There are a couple of things you as a parent can do to help teach boundaries. One is that you have to talk to them about how, while it’s not okay to intrude on other people’s space physically, she can express herself verbally. She can tell another kid, “I really like you,” without picking them up. You can help her put into words what she’s been acting out physically.
MOLLY: The kid can understand that?
MOM: Yeah, you say it in a language that the kid can understand. You help her realize that she can say, “I really like you,” or “I want to play with you,” instead of squeezing other kids. You try to help her put her actions into words so she doesn’t have to act it out. You could use a sticker chart in this case: when she does it appropriately, when she tries another approach rather than grabbing the other kids, she gets a sticker for it. She gets a sticker as positive reinforcement.
Some kids don’t have an innate social filter; generally you have to teach children what’s socially acceptable behavior. If you teach them when they are young, then you don’t have to worry about it when they are older. But, if they don’t learn it when they’re young, it will be a constant problem. Other people might end up avoiding her.
You can also practice with your child with what is appropriate hugging and touching. People hug and touch all the time but it has to be mutually acceptable.
MOLLY: How do you teach that?
MOM: : The Mom can teach her that she can hold hands with other children, or tell them how much she likes them, but she can’t pick them up and swing them around. You want to teach her how to hug without making it too strong where the other kid can’t breathe. It isn’t that she shouldn’t have physical contact with the other child, it isn’t that at all. It’s finding the appropriate way to do that. Children have to be taught that. Some kids have an intuitive sense about it and others don’t. If not dealt with when they are young, this lack of boundaries can become really problematic as they get older .