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Socially Speaking Preschoolers

Photo by zoo_monkey on Unsplash

Preschoolers are so much fun! By now, their language skills are well-developed, and you will find yourself having all sorts of wonderful conversations with them. They will have their own ideas, plans and oh so many questions! And of course, with their new-found independence, they won’t hesitate to let you know when you are wrong!

Your preschooler will become more social as they start to spend time away from you, whether it’s branching out and playing with new friends or tackling the social challenges of preschool. This is a great age to check in on how their social skills are developing to make sure they are on the right track to prepare for school.

Social skills are the skills we use daily to interact and get along with others. They are the ways we talk, play and work together that facilitate communication and underpin our relationships.

What are the social skills your preschooler will be developing?

3 to 4 years

  • Your child will now be able to follow instructions with two related steps, for example, “Get your plate and put it in the sink.” They will be able to do this without you needing to add in extra cues such as pointing or gestures.

  • They will now be telling you stories about their experiences and volunteering information.

  • Your child might be telling tales about their siblings and be looking for you to listen to their side of the story.

  • You will hear them practising their conversational skills by talking to themselves and talking with their toys.

  • Your child will show signs of frustration if they are not clearly understood.

  • They will use words and actions to express their ideas and feelings clearly.

  • Your child will love dramatic play, acting out whole scenes and often asking you to be involved in their role-play

At 4 years

  • Your child will be using more language to talk about their feelings

  • They will be able to make indirect requests which can often sound like hints. For example, “I’m hungry” will imply “I want something to eat.”

  • They will use general terms such as ‘this’, ‘that’, ‘here’ and ‘there’ correctly.

  • Their storytelling will become more complex and will include a description of a series of events.

  • Your child will make direct requests and give you good reasons why you need to do what they ask. For example, “Stop that. You’re hurting me.”

  • They will use words to ask others to play with them

  • Your child will use language to resolve issues with their friends

  • They can negotiate competitive games

  • You will love their conversations as they now have good control over the necessary elements such as taking a turn, listening, responding and asking questions.

  • They are developing a wonderful imagination and will use language such as “What if…?” or “I hope….”

How can you help your preschooler develop their social skills?

  • Spend time modelling good social skills

  • Talk to them about how to ask for things, using nice words and a nice voice.

  • Tell your child how you are feeling so they can link words to feelings and behaviours.

  • Let your child see how you interact with a variety of people. They will start to learn that the way you speak to the shop assistant is different to how you speak to your friend and is possibly different again from how you speak to your partner or parent.

  • Listen to their stories. Encourage more stories.

  • Talk about books, movies and tv shows. How are the characters feeling? How do they act and react?

  • Talk about what it is to act and treat others with kindness

  • Take advantage of their love of role-playing and have them practise what to say and do in certain situations. You can talk about how to invite others to play, how to ask a friend to change their behaviour (e.g. “Please stop, that hurts me”), and how to approach familiar adults.

  • You may find it helpful to coach your child on how to give appropriate displays of affection - who it’s ok to show affection to, how to show it appropriately, how long is an appropriate hug etc.

  • Play games that involve taking turns. Involve the whole family.

  • Help them to use their words to explain how a game is played

  • Model how to negotiate play rules with friends

  • Practise. A lot.

Why worry about social skills?

Social skills are essential for engaging appropriately with others. They affect our conversations and interactions with others during work, play, in the classroom and in social settings. Social skills are crucial for building all levels of relationships.

Children and adults who find it challenging to understand pragmatic language and navigate interactions may have difficulties:

  • Having conversations

  • Making friends

  • Building relationships in the community, such as in sporting groups

  • Developing working relationships

  • Collaborating with others at work or school

  • Responding appropriately during interactions with family, friends and unfamiliar people

  • Developing an understanding and awareness of social expectations in given situations and mastering the appropriate social skills

  • They may be perceived as rude or inappropriate.

What to do next?

Check out our related blogs for more information about social skill development in adults and children.

If you are concerned that your child is not developing social skills, it’s never too early or too late to chat with a speech pathologist. We can ease your mind about your child’s abilities and create a tailor-made plan to support your child in developing their social skills.


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