Social language skills, also known as pragmatic language skills, refer to the unspoken verbal and nonverbal rules governing our interactions.
These rules vary according to whom you are speaking with, where you are, and typically vary across different cultures. Someone with good social language skills will respond appropriately and flexibly to an ever changing social landscape.
While social skills are second nature to many of us, everyday social situations can be challenging for some.
A person with weak language, attention or memory skills may be unable to inhibit the impulse to talk, forget what was said, or have trouble keeping up with the pace of the conversation.
Someone with a social skills disorder might struggle to make eye contact, initiate or extend a conversation, misunderstand humour and facial expressions, and will likely make inaccurate guesses about what others are thinking and feeling.
A common characteristic of a social skills disorder, is impaired Perspective Taking. A complex process, perspective taking allows for interpretation of what is really going on by considering the thoughts, beliefs, desires and intentions of others.
The ability to consider and think about other people’s perspectives improves our social competencies, and strengthens our personal relationships. After all, social success is influenced and measured by how well we relate to and interact with others.
In Reclaiming Conversation (2015), Sherry Turkle describes how giving our attention to our children is the bread and butter of relationship building.
“Children learn how to regulate strong emotions, how to respond to other people’s social cues, and how to have conversations, largely as a result of the time parents spend listening to them, responding to them, helping them problem solve and understand themselves.”
A child’s social experiences rest on the foundation of the parent – child relationship. It is our responsibility, as parents, to be generous with our attention, and make ourselves available to our children in order to support their social skills learning.
Tips to support your child’s perspective taking:
- Ask your child to describe the situation.
- Break situations into small concrete parts.
- Offer a feeling word to label how you perceive your child is feeling.
- Explain what lead you to that belief about his feelings. Help him see your perspective because, personal problem solving relies on perspective taking.
- Encourage him to think about how he feels and how the other person might feel.
- Suggest how the other person might be feeling.
- Describe the facial expression and body language you might expect from a person who feels that way.
- Praise your child for her attempt to maneuver through a difficult social situation.
Modelling HOW you think about your child’s thoughts and feelings, and helping him examine his own thoughts and feelings, will go a long way to support his problem solving and friendship skills.
In addition to supporting friendships, working on perspective taking will improve understanding of material studied in school. Not only is it an essential skill when participating in group work, it is vital to appreciating and interpreting a lot of academic content. Imagine for a moment trying to understand significant historical or political events, or even simply relating to characters in novels, without the ability to take on another person’s perspectives.
Boost perspective taking, self-reflection and more, with my FREE GAMES
These games offer opportunities to:
- Think about others. Specifically what others would like to do, not like to do, what they might have tried, or what they would never consider trying.
- Reflect on your own preferences and interests.
- Store personal information about others in “memory files”, and then access the stored information.
- Formulate and ask personal questions with how, would and have.
In an era of increased time spent socializing on-line and a reduced rate of face-to-face interactions that are rich in social cues afforded through facial expressions, body language, tone of voice, and cadence, all children will benefit from thoughtful, straightforward, and honest interpretations and discussions of social situations. It requires more effort for sure, to create opportunities for face-to-face interactions, but they are loaded with social language learning opportunities and… it’s worth it!
Michelle Garcia Winner is an internationally recognized SLP who specializes in helping people develop their social competencies. I recommend her website for further information on social learning challenges. https://www.socialthinking.com/