When I was researching what to write about – I asked some folks in my NH Toddler’s facebook group what they were most nervous about and I shared my own fears about toddler social skills: that somehow this socially isolated time would forever impact my son’s social development.
You want to know what they all said? “SAME”
So – since social skills are kinda my jam – I decided to look into this topic a little further
Table of Contents:
- What is Social Communication?
- How common are Social Communication Disorders?
- Important Social Communication Skills for Toddlers
- 5.5 Ways to Support Social Skills at Home Today
Let me get a little disclaimer out of the way and then we can all learn together about toddler social development and ways we can cultivate it in our homes today.
A Quick Disclaimer: This post is in no way meant to replace evaluation and treatment for your child. Each child is different and their needs are unique to them. If you are interested in professional support for your child, I’d love to discuss that with you. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
So what is social communication?
Social communication includes social cognition (thinking as a social being) and social interaction (acting in ways that are prosocial). Social Cognition and Social Interaction encompass all language skills including what a child understands and what they express according to ASHA in their information about Social Communication Disorder.
In order to Communicate Socially, You may want to know how to…
- speak to different speakers,
- understand the perspectives of others, and
- understand the rules of verbal and nonverbal interactions.
You communicate in a social world while also using the other structures of language, like word order, vocabulary, and tense markers.
If it sounds complex – that’s because it is.
How Common is it for kids to have Social Communication Disorders?
If you’re wondering how often social communication becomes disordered, It’s a hard thing to get on the button, but there are estimations ranging from 1 out of every 3 kids having a social communication disorder to only 7.5% or less than 8 kids out of every 100.
If kids were M&Ms
Or for people who think like I do – that means that if you pour out a bag of M&Ms and pull out 14 or so from a 200 M&M bag – those are the kids that have social communication challenges.
I love to bring things into chocolate terms.
Even More Examples of Social Communication
- making greetings,
- adjusting your communication to match your communication partner,
- conversation skills,
- communication repairs,
- using pitch and intonation appropriately (e.g., asking a question vs. making a statement vs. saracasm),
- understanding nonverbal cues,
- understanding when things are implied instead of directly stated, and
- making/keeping close friendships
If you are curious about how these skills develop from birth to adulthood, ASHA has collected a fantastic resource with benchmarks from birth to 12 months, 12-18, 18 to 24, 24-36 and onwards through adulthood.
Important Social Skills for Toddlers
For my purposes – the children under five who are not in school right now, some important benchmarks are
- Imaginative language (e.g., I’m a mama and you’re my baby)
- Relating their experiences (e.g., went to farm – cows mooo)
- Descriptive details (e.g., stinky poop!)
- Asking for clarification (e.g., what doing?)
- Politeness (Ps and Ts)
- Turn-taking in conversation (you talk, then I talk, then you talk again)
- Ends a conversation (saying OK and walking away – bye, etc)
- Role-play (e.g., acting things out – being a monster)
- Speaks differently to younger kids (e.g., if a younger sibling is around do they speak in a higher pitch and with fewer words than they would with their engineer dad?)
- Fantasy language (e.g., dragons, knights, princesses, etc.)
- Jokes (e.g., making you laugh on purpose)
- Repairs when misunderstanding occurs (if you interpret their speech incorrectly – do they say no and fix it?)
- Using indirect requests (e.g., it’s too cold to request that you shut the window)
- Communicates feelings and emotions (using feeling words)
- Narrative development – sequence of events but may not have a central theme (does their story have a beginning, middle and end? It may just be a sequence of events for littles)
- Theory of mind – what do you know and not know? Are they aware that you may not know what they did all day because you weren’t with them?
- Topic shifting (may be rapid)
For the full list – refer to this document
You can keep a mental checklist like I do or print out the benchmarks sheet and go through it with your partner after your child goes to bed. You can decide – does my child have this skill most of the time?
How do I Support Social Communication at Home?
Once you know what your child needs help with, you can go ahead and start to try introducing social communication skills while you go about your day.
So here are 5 and 1/2 ways to help your child learn skills that they’d typically learn from other kids:
One: You lead – I’ll Follow
If you’ve been following along with my Instagram for a while, you know I’m a huge proponent of “Shut up and watch your kid” This is always going to be my number one. Watch them and give them an opportunity to initiate with you. This means they come up witht he play idea and you follow along even if it switches topic 8 times in five minutes. That’s how kids play together – they’re on the go.
Two: Talk About Feelings
Most kids learn happy mad and sad before school. It may seem funny, but teaching your child other feeling words will help them to be able to express how they’re feeling without having to bite another kid when we eventually get back together. MY son’s current favorite emotion word is “nervous” as in “getting to the top of my climber makes me nervous”
Three: Give Different Toys Different Status
Adjust your speech when you speak to a babydoll vs. the wise old Teddy Bear. This will help them to understand social code-switching in the future when we get together with other people with more frequency.
Four: Encourage Storytelling
If your family is switching off childcare between parents, have your child recap what they did with the other parent during dinner time. You could ask “what did you and Daddy do this morning?” and see what they say. If you have a family mealtime, the parent who was present can support this remembering. This not only helps them to begin to organize time and events, but it gives them an opportunity to share a story with you.
Four and a Half: Don’t Avoid the Sad Stuff
If your child had a hard morning, it can be great to review what happened with them and maybe even draw a picture. My son has a hard time hanging with me while my husband is upstairs working. We sometimes draw pictures about how he’s feeling sad because he misses Daddy etc. etc. I pulled this knowledge from the book The Whole Brain Child which is a great resource by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. They talk a lot about remembering and reviewing emotional events to help your child to process emotionally. From A language perspective, I like the practice it gives your child in telling a story.
Five: Give Your Child Opportunities to Negotiate and to Feel Frustrated
I know that we are all trying to get by right now and sometimes that means giving in and avoiding a tantrum. When toddlers are together, they don’t necessarily care about each other’s emotions. They rip toys out of each other’s hands and they frustrate the heck out of each other. So if we don’t have a friend with a toddler in our safe circle of people, it might be your job to give this opportunity. Let your child lose the game and help them negotiate those feelings. When they’re being bossy with a game – add an element to their play and see if they can negotiate that.
So those are my five and a half tips to help your child be more social during these isolated times. I hope that I’ve given you at least one idea to get started. If you aren’t already following me, please go to @mama.speech and give me a follow on Instagram. I also want to re-state that this advice should never replace therapy, so if you are in NH or MA and you have concerns about your child’s language or play development, reach out to me via my website www.kaylacalabro.com
Have a great week and I’ll be back next week to share some more!