Personal boundaries: why they’re important for children
Personal boundaries are limits and rules about how we behave around others and how other people behave around us. Your personal boundaries might reflect how you feel about touching other people, what you feel comfortable saying to other people about yourself, and so on.
When children learn about their own and other people’s personal boundaries, it helps them understand how to behave in different social situations.
An understanding of personal boundaries also helps children recognise inappropriate behaviour. And this can help them stay safe from child sexual abuse.
Circle of friends: how it helps children understand personal boundaries
A circle of friends is a picture that shows different people in your child’s life. Your child is in the middle, and people are in concentric circles around your child. Family members are closest to your child, and strangers are furthest away.
A circle of friends helps your child understand the different people in their life. For example, it helps your child understand:
- what their relationship is with these people
- how they should behave with these people
- what behaviour is OK from these people.
Here’s an example of a circle of friends picture. Download and print a PDF version of this circle of friends example (PDF: 379kb).
What you need for a circle of friends activity
You and your child can do a circle of friends activity together.
- a large piece of paper
- pencils or felt tip pens.
You might also need photos of your family and your child’s friends.
How to do a circle of friends activity with your child
Creating a circle of friends
- Start with a big piece of paper and ask your child to draw a picture of themselves in the middle. Or they could stick a photo of themselves there. Ask your child to draw a circle around themselves.
- Draw a larger circle around your child’s circle. In this circle add the people who are closest to your child – for example, the family they live with. Your child could write their names, draw pictures of them or stick on photos of them.
- Draw a larger circle around the first 2 circles. In this circle add people who are close to your child but not quite as close as those in the first circle. They could be extended family or your child’s best friends. Talk with your child about who to include.
- Draw another circle around the others and add acquaintances. These are people your child knows but isn’t close friends with. They could be people in your child’s wider group of friends, in their class at school, on their sports team, or family friends. Talk with your child about who to include.
- Draw another circle and add professionals and other people whose jobs are to help your child. They might be teachers, doctors or carers.
- In the outside circle add strangers. These are people your child doesn’t know.
Using the circle of friends to help your child understand personal boundaries
Once you’ve added people to each of the circles, talk with your child about how your child should behave with people in each circle.
You could ask questions like these:
- How would you greet people in this circle?
- Which people would it be OK to kiss or hug?
- Who would you invite to your house for dinner?
- Who could you talk to if you’re worried about something?
- Could you sit in this person’s lap?
You can use this activity to help your child stay safe from sexual abuse. To do this, you can ask your child questions about how other people should behave around them. For example:
- Which people can hug or kiss you?
- Which people can hold your hand?
- Which people can collect you from school?
You could also create an ‘Is it all right to … ?’ table. Use ticks and crosses to show what it’s OK to do with people in the different circles. This can also be a useful visual support for autistic children. They could keep the table in their room to look at when they need to.
Adapting this activity for children of different ages or children with diverse abilities
Your younger child, child with disability, autistic child or child with other additional needs might need support to think of who should go into each circle. You can suggest types of people, like people who help your child. Ask your child whether they can think of anyone else to include.
Your younger child might also need help drawing the pictures and circles. Try to guide your child by holding their hand while drawing the circle, rather than just doing it for them.
Your older child might want to do the activity more independently. Your child could add people to the circles, and then you could talk with your child about why they’ve chosen those people. Encourage your child to think about any people they might have missed.
All children learn and develop through play. Our articles on play and autistic children and play and children with disability are great starting points for adapting this activity guide for children with diverse abilities. You might also like to explore our activity guides for children with diverse abilities.