Tips For Developing Your Child’s Social Skills

Social skills begin to develop immediately after a child is born.  Eye contact is made briefly, awareness of voices is observed and visual tracking begins. These skills will continue to develop throughout the child’s life. As we age social interactions become more complex and challenging.

These tips for developing your child’s social skills will help make sure your child  gets started in the right direction.

Talk to your 0-3 month old softly.
Smile, stick out your tongue, and wait for a response. Hold up simple toys and move them slowly from side to side. Remember that babies this young are often over stimulated. So follow their cues and remember that often less is more.

At the 4-6 month range babies begin doing lots of new things.
They begin to smile at your face, stare at their own hands and get excited at the sight of a favorite toy. They will begin to shake a rattle although early on you will still need to place the rattle in their hand. When placed on a play mat they will likely be busy for 10-15 minutes. They will kick, bat at, grab, bang and explore toys with their mouth (everything for that matter). They also learn to roll over, work for toys and transfer them from one hand to the other. If you haven’t already done so, start reading books to your baby.

At the 7-9 month range object permanence begins.
This is a big developmental stage as they begin to realize that objects still exist even though they don’t see them. This in itself can be used for a variety of play activities such as hiding toys, and playing peek-a-boo. Babies at this age also begin to imitate hand gestures such as clapping and waving bye-bye. This is the stage when your baby becomes more fun to play with. Enjoy every minute of it because soon you will not be able to keep up with him.

At the 10-12 month stage your baby will begin to learn cause and effect.
Try playing ball because some awareness of pushing or throwing the ball back and forth is emerging. Many babies will start to dance at this stage, so musical toys are always fun. Many begin walking in this age range so quiet play is less frequent. Active play is fun at every stage so get moving! And don’t forget to read more books.

13-15 month old babies enjoy in and out play.
Of course that mostly means you put it in and they dump it out over and over again. This is when you begin to stare in amazement at how messy your house becomes.

Babies this age may also become attached to blankets or teddies. When they do, stuffed toys are always fun to play with. You can start modeling pretending which your baby will probably find very entertaining. They may imitate many things such as combing their hair, and brushing their teeth, so be aware that every move you make could be modeled. That being said, remember to read to them and model reading yourself.

19-24 month olds engage in parallel play which means playing near another child but not with them. Some toddlers are more successful than others at this. During this phase a child thinks that everything belongs to him and sharing is very difficult. Keep in mind that a child with an older sibling will generally be more possessive of his things. Remember these are teachable moments and all children are different.

Toddlers in this stage will begin talking to themselves while playing. The language explosion in this stage is exciting. Feel free to sit back and listen or join in. Attention in this stage begins to improve and you may be able to sit and take a breath. Play dough, and crayons are great supervised activities at this age. And, oh yeah, have I mentioned books are always good?

At 25-30 months parallel play continues.
During gross motor play some children will play together. Children in this age range begin to act out themes from their own lives. Observing this is a good way to see how children feel about certain situations.

During this stage they also begin to build actual objects with blocks such as trains. After building them they may even push them around. Blocks are great for imaginative play. Some children may need more guidance than others to get started. So if your child shows no interest in playing with blocks show them how to build houses, trains, tunnels etc… Books remain favorites at this age.

31-36 month old children begin to pretend and make believe.
They really enjoy toy kitchens, tool benches and doctor’s kits. You may be asked to play different roles in their pretend play. This is the age when they start to play with other children in small groups. Waiting their turn emerges as they now understand what waiting means and that it is different than “no”. Children at this age may help with clean up time and should be encouraged to do so. By the way, children who are read to are more likely to love to read.

Between the ages of 37-42 months, play remains similar as the prior stage yet more complex pretending takes place. Children continue to play in groups more consistently. Parents need to intervene less as children are better able to resolve simple conflicts.

Smaller, fine motor activities are fun at this age as well as simple board games such as Candy Land. Not all 3-3 ½ year olds are mature enough for these games, however they will be shortly. Children at this age may look at books more independently. This should be encouraged.

During the ages of 3.7 to 4 years children begin to make real friends.
They usually choose a friend of their own gender. Some children become very bossy with their companions during this stage. And children with less advanced language and/or social skills often will follow others eagerly.

At this age your child should clean things up on his own more frequently and should continue to be encouraged to do so. Dress up play becomes big in this stage. Costumes are fun gifts for this age group. Don’t be afraid to let your child dress up to go out in public. They are expressing their individuality.

Children can begin to draw people and fill in missing parts of people. Any games involving faces, body parts and clothing are good. Borrowing books from the library is also a great activity. It teaches children responsibility, and also allows them to be exposed to a great variety of books you might never buy.

4-4 ½ year olds like to praise themselves.
They also enjoy performing. So puppets and puppet shows are great. You can buy puppet theaters or make puppets and a stage with some creativity. Some children at this age are showing an interest in learning to read and spell, so letter and word activities are always great.

Playing with your kids should be fun. If it is not, take a look at what or how you are playing. Is the activity age appropriate? Is it too challenging? Or maybe it’s too simple? If this is the case for you the above guidelines will help.

Here is a list of social skills milestones so you can see what you child should be doing at each age.


Isa Marrs is the Founder and Executive Director of the Where I Can Be Me® social skills program. She is a board-certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in pragmatic language (social skills) disorders in children. Read More