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How can I teach my child social communication skills?

two toddlers talk to an adult

Key points:

  1. Pragmatics, or social communication rules, are vital for effective language use. Teach them the importance of nonverbal communication and understanding facial expressions.
  2. You can teach your child skills like using language for various purposes and following conversation rules, even if they sometimes break them.

Sometimes we forget to talk about a major component to language: pragmatics, or the rules for using language in different situations and with different people. Also known as social communication, pragmatics cover facial expressions, gestures, what to say, and when to say it. Knowing and following these rules makes it easier for everyone to communicate.

There are three major social communication skills you can teach your little one:

  1. Using language for different reasons: whether you’re informing, requesting, or demanding, it implies a different way of communicating.
  2. Changing language for the listener or because of the situation: talking differently to a child than to an adult, skipping details when someone already knows what you’re talking about, talking differently depending on the place you’re at.
  3. Following rules for conversations: these include taking turns to speak, staying on topic, knowing how close to stand to someone while talking, etc.

It’s totally normal and even expected for children to break some of these rules while they are still learning them. Some kids can’t filter what they say –so if you want an honest answer about your outfit, ask your little one! Although your child’s lack of social communication skills can sometimes be uncomfortable or embarrassing for you, remember that it’s a learning process and simply find a time to point out why what they said was improper and what they could have said instead.

On the other hand, if your child is having trouble with conversational skills, make sure to give them a lot of chances to practice. Before you begin a conversation, say something about the topic you want to talk about so that they know what you’re interested in discussing. This might help them stay on topic. Ask questions about it so that they carry on with the conversation. You can also teach them about nonverbal communication and how sometimes facial expressions can tell us more about what someone is trying to say. Look at pictures of faces with different expressions and have your little one try to identify what the person might be feeling.

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