Personal Space

by Brian on February 23, 2006

in A Parent in Israel

It’s a familiar scene in our house. Too familiar.

One of the kids will be sitting on the couch reading or playing in the
living room. Another kid will come up, sit down right in his or her
space and either start something in a demonstratively bothersome way,
or try to enter uninvited into the first one’s activity.

The usual response: “I was here first.”

The mandatory reply: “It’s not your couch.”

Followed by: “Why can’t you sit somewhere else?”

“I’m not bothering you.”

“Yes you are.”

“Imma! Abba!”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a little bickering between siblings. I
certainly did it with my brother. But as this scenario gets played out,
again and again, in exactly the same way, Jody and I as parents have
felt increasingly powerless. There must be something we can do to help
our kids – and keep peace in the family.

We decided to raise the subject at Family Meeting.

For several years years, we have held a Family Meeting every Saturday
night, after dinner. We all gather around the dining room table, even
seven-year-old Aviv (although he usually falls asleep before it’s over).

The main motivation for Family Meeting is the distribution of allowance…and the opportunity to kvetch.
We have tried various techniques over the years to channel that griping
into something more positive, such as going around the table and saying
something nice about everyone else.

We’ve also integrated advice from a couple of books to guide our
discussions: Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s “Siblings Without
”; “Love and Logic” by Foster Cline and Jim Fay; and “Teaching
Your Children Responsibility
” by Linda and Richard Eyre.

But when it came to addressing our recurrent bickering scenario, none of these sources really spoke to us.

And then something hit me. A flash of inspiration.

“Stand up,” I said to the kids.

“What for?” demanded Amir. He was comfortably slumped over the table,
drumming with his fingers as fourteen-year-olds tend to do. Or so I’ve
come to learn. But he did as he was told.

“I want you to stand still, Amir. And Merav,” I said to our
twelve-year-old daughter, “I want you to come close to Amir. Now Amir,
tell me when Merav is getting too close.”

“She’s already too close,” Amir replied immediately, although she was still half way across the room.

What I realized was that much of the incessant squabbling could be
attributed to the issue of “personal space” – that invisible comfort
boundary between people that we’re all supposed to know not to cross.

For some, personal space is an innately understood guideline. Others,
however, appear clueless. You know the types: they stand too close,
interrupt inappropriately, barge into a work meeting and start talking.

Personal space extends to vehicles. In fact, I belive many of the
problems we have on the roads (in Israel in particular but not confined
to our small aggressive country), from tailgating and passing on the
right to road rage, can be traced back to a lack of understanding of
personal space.

Which led to a question: is awareness of personal space teachable?

“Move closer,” I said to Merav as we continued our experiment

She did.

“Is that comfortable, Amir?”

She moved a little closer.

“How about now?

We did this several times and then switched so that it was Amir approaching Merav.

Merav reached out and started to hug Amir.

“Get her off of me!” Amir wailed.

But the point was made. We tried again with Aviv, who was eager to
participate in this new “game.” I explained about the concept, then
swept in for the summary.

“So, you see,” I said, “I’m thinking we can solve at least some of this constant
fighting by just being more aware of personal space. On the couch or
wherever. Do you think you can start using this new language?”

“Yeah, like she’s in my personal space right now by just being in the same house!” Amir said.

But this time, he said it with a smile.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Anonymous February 25, 2006 at 3:23 am

Don't tell Amir, cuz it sounds like he's likely to use this, but when I was a kid and sitting on “the good spot” on the couch, my brother would pass by me and then fart in the “air space” of the good spot. I would of course immediately vacate the premises, resulting in me losing the coveted spot!!! Your post brought me back to those smelly, (but funny now) days.
…enjoying your blog…

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