Why don’t they just get it? When it comes to appropriate social interactions, it can be surprising when a child does not innately posses the tools and skills to foster successful conversations and peer relationships. This should not be alarming, as social skills can be acquired like any other skill; we all go to school to learn math and science, and without assistance one might not understand these concepts. Social skills function the same way – without education and practice, children may struggle in social situations.
It is important for children to understand the rules of language (e.g., using language, changing language, and following rules) in order to succeed in various social environments. Using language comprises greeting (“Hello”), informing (“I am watching TV.”), and requesting (“Can I watch TV?”). Children also need to learn to change language, depending on the environment. Children will adjust their message depending on their needs, the needs of their communicative partner, the age of their partner (e.g., talking to a baby differently than talking to your principal), and based on their environment (e.g., yelling on the playground is acceptable, however yelling in the classroom is not). Children will learn to follow the rules of conversation as well, including taking turns, staying on topic, reading verbal and non-verbal cues, and understanding personal space boundaries. If your child is struggling with any aspect of social language, the tips below can help!
Tips for Improving Your Child’s Social Skills:
- Ask questions: Model how to ask peers or adults questions. Examples may include the following: asking how someone’s day is going, asking likes/dislikes, or asking communicative partners to elaborate or repeat phrasing in order to aid in listener understanding. Utilizing these strategies will help children better interact in social situations.
- Answering questions: Talk with your child to help him learn that answering questions can help further a conversation and will allow for the back-and-forth flow of an interaction.
- Topic maintenance: Children will often change the topic to something of interest to them. Help your child practice topic maintenance skills by each taking turns picking the topic and see if you can each make 5 questions/comments for a non-preferred topic.
- Role playing: Pretend that you and your child are in different social situations and adjust your tone of voice, volume, and message based on each scenario. Different scenarios include talking to a teacher, explaining a favorite game to an adult, asking a peer for help with homework, ordering in a restaurant, and not getting your way.
- Non-verbal skills: Alter your non-verbal skills when your child is telling you a story. This will help your child to pick up on signs of confusion, frustration, boredom, and anger. Explaining that non-verbal skills are integral parts of social interactions can help children to learn to maintain eye contact and use whole-body listening.
For further information, please read Social Skills: Improving Social Skills to Enhance Socio-Emotional Health or click here for more information from a licensed speech-language pathologist or a licensed clinical social worker.
Co-written by Ali Wein