When my four-year old and I were on a trip recently, he usually managed about ten minutes out with the family we were visiting, the mom, two kids, and two dogs eating and talking and walking around, before he’d say, “I need privacy.” He first learned the term when we were visiting my mom last summer. He wanted to be with her all the time, even when she was in the bathroom and had the door closed. So, not really thinking about how the concept of privacy would be further interpreted, I gave him the message that when the door was closed that meant he (or anybody) should give the person behind said door some time alone.
Fast forward nine months and my son is behind a closed door. Privacy is now his word for space. Though I was a little concerned that his buddy’s feelings would be hurt when he looked at her, said, “I want privacy” and closed the door in her face, I was happy that he had the words to ask for space when he needed it.
We worked on how to politely ask for it during the rest of our trip. It felt somehow in alignment with the other lesson we’re working on right now (one I and many adults need as much as our kids): we can decide what we want to do but we can’t decide what other people are going to do. So when Gilly would come to knock on the door and ask, “Do you want to play now Cavanaugh?” my son learned to say in his nice voice, “I still want some privacy.” We didn’t quite get to, “Thanks for asking. I’ll let you know when I’m ready” but he’s four, so that might be expecting a bit much.
Though the lesson in privacy came because Cavanaugh didn’t want to give my mom a second alone, now that she’s here visiting, he tried out the concept on my mom this morning. He didn’t ask for privacy or space. He just clung to me and said that we were playing LEGOs with instructions. He knows Gramma doesn’t do LEGO instructions, but buildw “out of her imagination” instead. Here was another way of saying, “I don’t want to play with you right now.” We were in the living room and there was no door to close, so he adapted. I was surprised at his request and impressed with his knowing he needed some alone time with Mama.
With our recent two-week trip to visit friends and now an eight-day visit from my mom, figuring out how much time with other people is something I need to do too. This morning after our LEGO session, I went upstairs to shower and be alone. Then I cleaned off the bathroom counter, made the bed, and put away some laundry. When I’m maxed out, I need to be alone in an orderly environment. I didn’t know that growing up. I didn’t understand privacy. We weren’t allowed to close doors unless we were changing clothes. Now, I understand that the closed door is a healthy boundary, as is asking for privacy or taking space and time when one needs (or wants) it.
Without realizing it, I passed that understanding on to my son. It’s one of those lessons that reminds me he watches what I do and say and learns from it–so I need to watch what I do and say too. In this case, I’m happy with the behavior I modeled and thrilled to see my son trying it on for size. It fits him quite nicely.
How have you taught your kids the concept of taking space when they need it? How was it taught to you?