Developing Social skills in young children

Saying “Hi” or “bye” or just  sharing feelings does not come easily for all children. Many kids today exhibits social or pragmatic language delays. Some have even been diagnosed with conditions such as Autism and Turret’s syndrome. There are several things parents or caregivers can do at home to begin helping children develop social language and communication skills.

One might ask – What skills do children need to know? Some important ones are greetings (saying “hi” or “bye”), sharing feelings and understanding  those of others, turn-taking, using appropriate eye contact and maintaining focus. Now here are a few activities that are useful in establishing and developing these skills.

1. Hoop Play. Play is the vehicle by which all children learn and develop.  This activity is good for building eye contact,  turn-taking and maintaining focused attention. Here the adult and child take turns shooting the ball into a hoop. It is important to use language like “it’s your turn” and “great job”. This language is reinforcing and serve as verbal cues. The activity naturally creates sustained eye contact and  focused participation.  Always reward the child with social praise (i.e.”good shot”) throughout. This game once learned and enjoyed can be used by the child later to invite others to play and develop his confidence – as he has something he can show others how to do.

2. Board Games.  Use a simple game like Over-sized Tic-Tac-Toe. This activity is good for building eye-contact, turn-taking and maintaining focused attention. The initial goal would be just to have the child first choose a letter – “X”  or “O” to take turns placing on the board.  Later the child can be encouraged to have all their X’s ‘ lined up’ or in a row. When  he does the adult can exclaim “you win”. This activity again naturally creates sustained eye contact and focused participation. Once this simple game is learned the child is able to use it at any time to engage not only peers but perhaps even older siblings and adults.

3. Story Time. Use an easy to read, picture book.  This activity is good for building shared attention, turn-taking, practicing social routines – like greetings, sharing and understanding feelings. During this activity the adult would resist reading word for word. Instead the adult can describe what’s pictured on the page using simple language which label, describe actions and suggest what characters are feeling or thinking. The story can and should be read repeatedly. This creates the opportunity for the child when asked to describe perceived emotions or feelings; take turns telling portions of the story and telling what characters are saying when they first meet – for example. Story time is useful because it helps to build school readiness skills like interacting with books, identifying letters and their sound counterparts, understanding spoken words can be also be written etc. It also sets the child on a path of independence – because he learns he can eventually use texts as a means to entertain him or herself and  learn about things he might be interested in.

4. Tablet. Tablets and the I-pads allow the use of apps that can be used to teach some subtle aspects of communication.  One useful apps is “Talking Tom Cat”. This app is available both on the I-pad and android tablets. On this application it is possible to have kids observe facial changes and other body language which tell how the cat is feeling or is trying to communicate. Once a child has learned to detect subtle meanings in body language he or she can use this knowledge to improve their interaction with others and develop more successful relationships.

In conclusion I would say that there is real benefit in engaging our children in activities that build social skills. These activities when carefully chosen and used well can help children correct development challenges and steer them on a course where they create positive and meaningful relationships  while  achieving  their fullest potential.

Can you think of other activities that help develop social skills in young children? Please post comments:


I've been a speech therapist for 18 years now. I've worked with children and adults in a variety of settings and have found the work very fulfilling. I am married and have 3 children. I am also a musician.