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Refining Social Skills

Week 1: Look at me when I’m talking!

Communication is not only about what is spoken. In fact, more than half of what we communicate is expressed by gesture, tone of voice and facial expression. Anyone who has ever tried to communicate with someone who speaks a foreign language will understand that there is a lot that we can do to get a message across when words fail! Children start to learn these non-verbal skills from a very early age, in fact, parents will typically start to notice their baby making direct eye contact from as early as 6-8 weeks of age! Maintaining eye contact is an incredibly important skill for our little ones to achieve. Making eye contact demonstrates active listening, shows our facial expressions more clearly and sets us up to be more attentive to the body language of our listener. If your child struggles to keep eye contact, a great game to play is, “Follow My Eyes to Find the Surprise!”. This game involves hiding something that your little one enjoys, such as a favourite toy or treat, and using your eye gaze only to guide them towards the “prize”. If they don’t look at your eyes to see where you’re looking, they’ll struggle to find their “prize”. This teaches children that we can learn new information from looking at someone’s eyes and also teaches them how to track a person’s eye gaze. What toy or treat are you going to hide from your little person this week?

Week 2: Well, Hello There!

This month, we’ve been focusing on communication skills that relate to how we say things to one another. As humans, we all have the desire to be accepted and acknowledged by those around us. Demonstrating to each other basic social niceties is one simple way that we can show the people around us that they matter and that their existence is significant to us. One such skill is taking the time to properly greet one another. It’s very common for little people to become comfortable being a receiver of a hello or goodbye but not a reciprocator. Teaching our children to reply appropriately when someone says hello or goodbye is an important social skill to learn, and sets them up to have positive interactions with the people around them. We are our little person’s strongest influence and they are much more likely to copy a behaviour that they’ve seen us do than one that they haven’t. One way that we can encourage our little ones to use greetings is in imaginary play. You might pretend to be a customer, wanting to buy something from your little sales assistant, or perhaps you’ll have a pretend conversation over the phone! By slipping these little habits into routine play, we’re increasing our little person’s familiarity of how to become a confident communicator. What games will you slip your hellos and goodbyes into this week?

Week Three: Telling Fibs!

Has your little one ever boldly lied to your face? How did you feel? Were you furious, amused or horrified? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that telling fibs is a normal part of development. In fact, 80% of 4 year olds tell lies! As we’re talking about social skills and pragmatic development this month, we thought it was important to talk about lying. It’s a complicated area, because sometimes lying is socially appropriate (such as when pretending to like a gift we don’t want), but a lot of the time it’s better to tell the truth! Lying is important for language and social development as it is part of learning to ‘think like the other person’, otherwise known as Theory of Mind. There are plenty of ways to develop your child’s Theory of Mind without encouraging lying! For example, you could play dress ups and pretend to be somebody else. The process of pretending to be someone else requires your young one to put themselves into another person’s shoes and think about what that person might like, dislike and how they might act. Who could you and your child dress up as this week? A butcher? A florist? A construction worker?

Week 4: Staying on Topic

Part of social development is learning to pay attention to other people and think about what they are interested in. When our children are very young, they are wrapped up in their own world and in their own head. As they get older, they become increasingly aware of the feelings and behaviours of those around them. Have you noticed that sometimes your little one will make a statement out of the blue? Perhaps you were busy talking about what to eat for tea and they’ll decide to suddenly tell you about Harry falling over at preschool and needing a bandaid? This is a sign that they haven’t fully learnt the skill of topic maintenance yet! Topic maintenance is the ability to continue a conversation on the same topic. You can maintain a topic by asking your conversation partner a question or by saying a related comment or story. By 4 years old, our young ones should be beginning to maintain topics of conversation. You can promote this skill by demonstrating how to ask topic related questions and by commenting when they say something off topic. What does your little one love to talk about? A preferred topic is always easier to maintain!

Written by Bec and Grace

Speech Pathologists

Newcastle Speech Pathology

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