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Socially Speaking Toddlers

By now, your little person will be very social. As they become more mobile and start to move beyond their initial family circle, toddlers will continue developing the social skills they need to interact appropriately with others.

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 toddler is developing?

12 to 18 months

  • Your child will be waving bye-bye

  • They will connect gestures to words to let you know what they want. For example, they may say “up” and hold their hands up

  • They will take turns in a conversation, making noises, babbling or even saying words

  • Your child may be practising using their voice to experiment with intonation. They may sometimes copy adults, for example, raising the tone of their voice at the end of a word or string of sounds to suggest they are asking a question.

  • They are developing their ability to give their attention to something you are also paying attention to. This is called joint attention, and it means that they are interested in doing what you are doing. This is important for sharing books and experiences together.

18 months to 2 years

  • Your toddler may enjoy being the clown and will repeat actions that made someone laugh

  • They will start to copy adults in play. For example, you may see your toddler trying to put clothes in a basket or wipe down the table.

  • They will refer to themselves by name

  • You may hear your toddler talking to themself when playing

  • Their pretend play skills are developing, and they will be using all sorts of objects as phones, saying hello to a favourite relative or friend.

2 to 3 years

  • Your toddler is now very close to becoming a preschooler. They will be watching other children and will briefly join in their play.

  • They now take a greater number of turns within interactions with others

  • They are beginning to recognise the needs of other people and can adjust the way they speak to an adult as opposed to a baby.

  • They will start to acknowledge other people’s messages by using phrases like “yeah”, “ok” and “mm”

  • Your toddler will have a wide vocabulary and will start to use repair strategies if you don’t understand what they are talking about

  • Pretend play is developing, and your toddler may start to enjoy playing house

  • They will begin to engage in a wider range of make-believe activities

  • Your toddler will be looking for opportunities to join in with others and will want to be doing what you are doing.

  • You may hear them holding conversations between toys

  • They may become defensive of their own possessions and be unwilling to share them with others

  • Your toddler will be able to tell others how old they are by holding up their fingers

  • They can help you look for missing items

  • And they may help you put things away

  • Your toddler will certainly have found their voice and will be using words to modify others’ behaviour, rather than just physical action

  • They will use their words to request action and information

  • They will start to participate in some group activities

How can you help your toddler develop their social skills?

  • Spend lots of time getting face-to-face with your toddler so they can see your facial expressions, make eye contact with you and understand what you are saying

  • Engage in silly play to hold their attention and help them take more turns in an interaction

  • Respond to them when they speak to you - use words and encouraging sounds such as “mmm” and “oh” to encourage them to say more and take extra turns

  • Model appropriate body language

  • Encourage your child to complete tasks with you. For example, putting toys away, helping hang the washing by handing you pegs

  • Give them simple instructions to follow

  • Read books together to encourage language and joint attention

  • Add words to their gestures. Provide commentary on what they are doing and label the feelings you can imagine they are experiencing

  • Take time for conversations

  • Practise taking turns in games

  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes together

  • Make the most of all the face-to-face time you have while feeding, changing them, putting them in car seats, and sitting in the high chair. Get down on their level so they can clearly see your eyes and facial expressions and hear your voice.

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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