More Than Words: Building Social Communication Skills

Does your child have difficulty playing with other children? Do they prefer to play alone or demonstrate challenges in making friends? This blog will discuss what pragmatic (social) communication is, review the signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder, and provide strategies for encouraging pragmatic language development in your child.

What is pragmatic language and why is it important?

Pragmatic language or social communication refers to the appropriate use of language in social situations. It is not only what we say, but also how we say it. This includes being able to understand and use nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions. Pragmatic language is comprised of various important skills for successful communication, including eye contact, turn-taking, initiating and maintaining conversation, and understanding and using humor, among others. Children may have difficulty with one or more of these skills. It is important to support the development of your child’s pragmatic language skills so that they can learn to express themselves, understand others, and build relationships with family and peers.

Signs of a pragmatic language delay or disorder:

  • Preferring to play alone for an extended period of time
  • Limited eye contact while talking and/or playing
  • Difficulty taking turns
  • Limited initiation of conversation or play
  • Difficulty maintaining a topic of conversation
  • Difficulty participating in pretend play activities
  • Difficulty understanding or expressing emotions
  • Difficulty understanding another’s point of view
  • Difficulty interpreting tone of voice or body language
  • Difficulty making inferences
  • Difficulty using appropriate greetings
  • Difficulty adapting language to different listeners (i.e. talking to a friend the same way as to an adult)
  • Difficulty adapting language based on environment (i.e. talking the same way on the playground as in the classroom)
  • Not providing background information when appropriate

Strategies for building pragmatic language skills:

  • Pretend play:Engage in pretend play activities with your child, such as playing house, pretending to bake cookies, or pretending to be a veterinarian. Pretend play facilitates growth in cooperative back and forth play, ability to act out social situations, and ability to understand another’s perspective.
  • Turn-taking games:Turn-taking is a fundamental skill of communication as it teaches the basic back-and-forth exchange of a conversation. Through turn-taking games children learn to wait when it is someone else’s turn and they learn how to identify when it is their turn. Turn-taking games could be as simple as rolling a ball back and forth or taking turns blowing bubbles. You could also play simple turn-taking board games with your child to support development of this skill.
  • Story time:When reading a book with your child, try to make it interactive. Based on their age and language skills you could ask them to describe the pictures and what they see. For older children you can ask questions such as, “How do you think he feels?” or “What do you think she will do?” Prompting your child to answer these types of questions will help your child to make inferences, learn to understand another person’s perspective, and have a better understanding of emotions.
  • Be a good role model: You are your child’s best teacher. Model appropriate social communication skills such as making appropriate eye contact, using appropriate greetings, asking on-topic follow up questions, etc. Help your child to use these social communication skills when talking to family, teachers, and peers.
  • Facilitating peer interactions:Children need practice in order to learn to share, take turns, and play cooperatively with others. Setting up play-dates that you can be present for is a great way to facilitate peer interactions and relationships. You can encourage your child to communicate with their peer by prompting them to initiate conversation and play ideas. In addition you can encourage them to maintain play and communication with their peer by prompting them to ask on topic questions and make on topic comments.

Questions or concerns?

If you have questions or concerns about your child’s pragmatic language skills, please contact us at info@playworkschicago.com or 773-332-9439.

Claire Kakenmaster, MS, CCC-SLP
Speech Language Pathologist

Photo Credit: Image by HaiRobe on Pixabay

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