Home parenting How to teach children to deal with closeness and distance

How to teach children to deal with closeness and distance

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

This is an important topic when dealing with strangers, but also with friends and acquaintances. Children need to learn what is appropriate and what is not. It’s not always easy, but it’s important for us parents to set an example and to treat our children with closeness and distance. So much in advance: traditional customs are often a hindrance here.

What are closeness and distance?

First, we distinguish here between emotional and physical closeness and distance. Emotional closeness refers to mutual feelings and empathy for each other and the way we show them. Physical proximity and distance primarily refer to the actual physical distance between two or more people. Closeness always means being together, and distance always means being apart.

How do children learn closeness and distance?

It is up to us parents to learn the balance between closeness and distance. We must give our children:

  • Be a good role model by keeping the necessary distance from strangers or not-so-close confidants
  • Make our children aware when they act inappropriately
  • Discuss social situations over and over again
  • Allow our children natural developmental limits.

Be a role model

Our children see how we deal with strangers and acquaintances, or even relatives and close friends. If we tend to stand a little too close to someone or give a kiss on the cheek in greeting, even though our children hardly know the person, they learn that this behavior is appropriate towards strangers.

Sometimes our children may also make misjudgments because they do not have the same information about the degree of familiarity with everyone. If you notice this, it is helpful to explain to your child that you just haven’t seen this person for a long time, but you know him or her very well.

Draw attention

If our children show inappropriate behavior towards strangers or even acquaintances, then simply draw your attention to it. Tell your child what you have found inappropriate and how it is more appropriate to behave. The why is also important.

For example, if your child jumps on the lap of an acquaintance you don’t know very well and cuddles with him or her, then you can tell your child that it doesn’t fit. That it would be better to shake hands (or something similar) and then talk to him/her or maybe draw or play something, depending on the situation. Since your child hardly knows the person, cuddling him/her is far too much.

Be aware!

The younger your child is, the more immediate the notification should be.

Discuss generally

However, you should always discuss the subject of closeness and distance with your child in general whenever it is convenient. So if you observe a situation or if something occurs in a book or story, it makes sense to take that as an opportunity and use this situation to talk about what your child thinks about it: how long have these people known each other? Are they related (mom and daughter, uncle and nephew, ….)? Are they best friends? Do you go to kindergarten together? So ask your child questions about what he/she thinks about the relationship between people. Then you can also discuss the actual situation. When your child says they’re best friends and people shake hands formally, for example, you could pick up on that right away and give other examples of how best friends greet each other. “Don’t you think best friends might hug?” 

Allow developmental barriers

Our children repeatedly go through developmental phases in which they are naturally afraid of strangers or try to get closer to others. The first phase is “strangers” in which babies always cry when they are held by someone they do not know. But even later there are always such phases and socialization fears. These are part of healthy development and normally disappear after the development step. Our task as parents is to further deepen our bond with our children and thus strengthen and help them to get through this phase. Sometimes, however, we tend to talk to our children out of this shyness and distance. This is of course a difficult balancing act for us parents. Because on the one hand, we should show our children inappropriate behavior and help them develop adapted behavior; on the other hand, we should also let them develop freely. I would recommend always considering whether it is appropriate behavior from your child’s perspective. This begs the question, how well does your child know the person? And is it perhaps based on your behavior and therefore reacts so familiarly to the person? 


In general, addressing the topic calmly and without accusations and working out alternatives together does not harm in any case.

What do closeness and distance mean in education and childcare?

Proximity and distance are essential, especially in the professional field. The right balance is needed to be able to build up the necessary closeness, build up the necessary trust, and be able to work in a relationship-oriented manner. On the other hand, distance is also particularly important to ensure professional objectivity. Proximity and distance on all three levels are particularly important here:

  • Balance of closeness and distance to the lifeworlds and living conditions of the children
  • Balance of closeness and distance between the interests and needs of the educator or childcare worker
  • Balance of closeness and distance between the interests of the childcare facility and the care

The interests of the children, the educators/caregivers, and the institution must therefore be considered individually. So, what closeness and distance mean in individual cases depends on all three levels.

I found an interesting thesis on the subject of negotiation of closness and distance in child’s narratives at Sage journals for you.

What to do when a child also stand or sit to close?

But what exactly can you do if your child or someone else does not show distance from you?

First, it may be because he/she just hasn’t learned it in a suitable, appropriate way yet. On the other hand, it can also be due to various developmental disorders. If this is your child, and you think you have tried to keep your child at the appropriate distance and closeness, and they are still at a loss, please contact your pediatrician. He or she will advise you if necessary and maybe send you to the right place.

11 tips for dealing with children, which keep no distance

  • Say “stop” clearly
  • Be obvious about what you don’t want
  • Also, say why you don’t want it
  • Suggest what you can do together instead
  • Be consistent
  • Agree on rules for specific situations
  • If it’s too much for you, walk away and keep your distance
  • Praise the child when you see they tried 
  • Set your limits. That’s okay, what’s not?
  • Find a quiet moment to discuss boundaries
  • Don’t embarrass the child, discuss inappropriate behavior (if possible) face-to-face

You can use reward boards to reward and increase motivation. This way, your child can see his/her progress better and stay on the ball.

In connection with empathy, i.e. sensitivity, I can recommend feeling cards from my professional practice. In this way, children can learn to understand their own feelings more easily and better recognize those of others.


Children can’t keep their distance until they are 3 years old!


We adults often experience a lack of distance as a failure for the child. But it is the helplessness of the children. As parents, we must teach our children this ability. At the same time, we must not forget about closeness. Both together, distance and closeness, are important components of social life and the ability to relate throughout our lives. It is therefore vital to give our children the right tools to take with them on their way.

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