Social Communication: What your child should know and when

Enrichment Therapies

April 4, 2018

By: Kelsey Coaldrake, M.A., CCC-SLP

Speech-Language Pathologist

Social communication goes by many names: pragmatic language, social language, social skills, social thinking, social cognition… just to name a few. But what does it all mean? And what social milestones should I expect my child to be meeting when?

Social communication involves using language for a variety of reasons, changing language based on the environment, and following “hidden” rules in conversation. We use language to ask questions, to gain access to our needs and wants, to share our emotions, and so much more. We use different language depending on who we are talking to (i.e. we might tell our teacher about our birthday party in a completely different way than we tell our friend about it). Social communication is important for developing relationships with others and for succeeding in an academic setting.

Social language development begins when a child is born. Below are some of the milestones for social communication development up to age 6. Click here to download your own!

Tips for improving social communication through play:

  • For younger children, play is a great tool for developing early social communication skills. Playing simple social games with younger children such as peek-a-boo can help your child develop social engagement. You can use a lot of anticipation (i.e. waiting with excitement) during these games to give your child the opportunity to initiate with you. Your child may initiate by babbling, grabbing your hands and putting them up to your eyes, or verbalizing “more”!
  • Turn-taking in play is an important foundational skill for turn-taking in conversation. Play simple turn-taking games such as taking turns blowing bubbles, putting a car down a ramp, or throwing a ball. Draw attention to turn-taking by using language (i.e. “my turn” and “your turn”) and gestures such as pointing. If your child has a difficult time sharing objects you can use 2 similar toys and trade toys to simulate turn-taking.
  • Pretend play can help a child develop an understanding of the social world around them. Simple pretend play could involve pretending to feed stuffed animals or dolls with bowls and spoons. More complex pretend play could involve pretending to have a birthday party for a child’s stuffed animal. You can sequence the steps of a birthday party by making a pretend cake out of play-dough and singing the birthday song followed by pretending to eat the cake.

Tips for improving social communication through perspective-taking and conversation:

  • For older children, talking about thoughts and feelings is a good place to start. Introduce the idea that other people have thoughts and feelings. Shared book reading allows you to point out characters and talk about what they might be thinking or feeling. The ability to identify the thoughts and emotions of others is important for social language development.
  • Watch videos or movies with your child and talk about what the characters are thinking and feeling. Encourage your child to use their eyes to see the character’s facial expressions and body language, use their ears to listen to the character’s message and tone of voice, and use their brain to think about what the character is thinking or feeling.
  • In conversation, encourage your child to take turns. Using a ball to play catch can facilitate turn-taking. When you have the ball, it is your turn to speak. Beforehand you can introduce the difference between a comment and question and throughout the game keep track of the number of questions and comments each player makes.

How speech therapists can help:

Speech therapists are able to provide intervention in the area of pragmatic language both individually and in groups. Individual pragmatic language therapy can help your child to work on specific social communication skills such as turn-taking, conversation, and perspective-taking. Group language therapy with a speech therapist provides your child with the opportunity to practice social communication skills in a supported setting.

Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center has locations in the Iowa City, IA area and Des Moines, IA area. We provide individual speech-language therapy and tutoring as well as offering small group academic programs.  At Enrichment Therapy & Learning Center our passion is to help kids achieve effective communication skills and gain academic success.  Contact us for more information on how we can help your child succeed.

740 Community Drive, Unit A

North Liberty, IA 52317


5530 West Pkwy, Suite 300

Johnston, IA 50131


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