browser phone mail fax play search left-arrow right-arrow up-arrow quote-left equalizer google facebook instagram twitter linkedin
If you’ve ever wondered, 'Is my child social enough?' – or even, 'Is my child overly social?' – you’re not alone.

If you’ve ever wondered, “Is my child social enough?” – or even, “Is my child overly social?” – you’re not alone. As we watch our young children grow and develop alongside other children, these are natural questions to have as a parent. Although it’s within our nature as human beings to compare, it is also important to remember that children are developing socially at different times and at different rates, and our #1 job as parents is to meet them where they’re at and support their social skill development in ways that are meaningful and fulfilling for them as individuals.

Social-Seekers

Some kids are naturally inclined to seek out more social opportunities with others – whether it be with a friend at school, a teacher, or another child they just met at the park. These are our “social-seekers.” They have a greater threshold for social interaction, meaning it takes more interaction to fill up their cup and satiate their social needs, so to speak. Social-seekers will naturally look for and find more opportunities to connect with others in a social way – through conversation, humor, silliness, or other types of behavior.

Social-Savorers

On the flip side, some others need less social interaction to fill their cups – we call these children “social-savorers.” They have a lower (or limited) threshold for social interaction, meaning that is takes less interaction to fill their cups and meet their social needs. These kids often prefer to reserve their social interaction “quota” for more structured opportunities across their day – such as during classroom morning meeting time or lunchtime – and they look forward to alone time during other parts of the day.

What Creates a Seeker or Savorer?

What shapes these social differences in young children? Many factors – including learning styles, developmental differences (e.g., differences in speech and language skills), mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety), and individual differences (formed by our personalities, experiences, and backgrounds) – may influence a child’s social skills. These individual social differences are important to be aware of and to understand, since we are all wired differently as human beings and subsequently bring our own individual differences to our social environments – whether it be at home, in school, or in the community.

Why Be Social?

Being “social” (*to whatever degree is attainable and fulfilling for your child*) is important and meaningful for young children because it lays the foundation for the development of their social skills throughout life. Starting at birth, a child’s social skills will first grow through one-on-one connections and interactions with their caregivers. It isn’t until later that these social skills may expand to more people, such as within a small or large group (as we typically wouldn’t expect a child to demonstrate a specific skill within a group before they can use this skill with one other person). These skills are important because they support our ability to successfully interact in a variety of environments throughout life. And furthermore, it is essential to name that research confirms young children develop many of these lifelong social skills through PLAY!

Which specific social skills are we talking about? This table highlights the social skills that children have the opportunity to gain from 1:1 play, small group play, and large group play:

Benefits of 1:1 Play Benefits of Small Group Play Benefits of Large Group Play
– Focus on individualized play, reflecting the child’s specific interest areas

– Sustained eye contact with play partner

– Joint attention

– Shared enjoyment

– Reciprocal turn-taking

– Reciprocal social conversation (the “back-and-forth”)

– Practice reading non-verbal cues of only one other person

– Practice making comments, requests, or asking questions

– Practice social problem-solving as it relates to one conversation topic

– Play scheme may shift more quickly than it would in a group

 

– Focus on either individualized play or rule-based play, depending on group size and dynamics

– Turn-taking with several play partners

– Creating and following group norms and rules

– Practice reading non-verbal cues of group members (e.g. facial expressions, body language)

– Practice making comments and/or asking questions of others

– Practice taking others’ perspectives

– Shifting between leading and following the group’s plan

– Cause-and-effect social reasoning

– Social pragmatics (i.e. the social use of language and how people interact with others)

– Focus on rule-based play reflecting the group’s interest areas

– Group collaboration

– Identifying and shifting between individual roles within the group

– Mental flexibility

– Social pragmatics

– Reading non-verbal cues of group members and appropriately applying cues to group plan

– “Code Switching,” or changing language for the listener or situation

– Developing skills of sharing with other group members with delayed gratification

– Social negotiation skills

– Building grit while persisting toward long-term group goals

– Developing Theory of Mind skills (i.e. the ability to think about mental states – including emotions – of your own and those of others)

– Learning values of teamwork, compromise, cooperation, and morality

Disclaimer: The social skills presented in the table are being included with the type of play (i.e., 1:1, small group play, large group play) that they are most often associated with. However, these skills may be observed across several different types of play and do not necessarily belong to the one type of play listed above.

Hesitancies and Fears

It is also common for children to have hesitancies or fears related to being social or joining social situations. Reasons behind these fears can vary from child to child, as well as situation to situation. Fears could be rooted in previous social experiences (e.g., being left out of a game, causing them to fear rejection; bullying/not being accepted by their peers; etc.), anxiety or excessive worrying, or simply a preference for solitude or more “alone time.” Research tells us that children who consistently withdraw socially are at a higher risk for a range of negative outcomes, including socio-emotional difficulties (e.g., anxiety, low self-esteem, depressive symptoms, and internalizing problems), peer difficulties (e.g., rejection, victimization, and poor friendship quality), and school difficulties (e.g., poor-quality teacher-child relationships, academic difficulties, and school avoidance) (Annual Review of Psychology, Rubin et al., 2009). Fortunately, there are ways parents can respond to counteract these risks.

What Parents Can Do

Research has shown that parents who do the following things can actually help their children become less socially-inhibited and more socially-skilled during early childhood:

  • Maintain sensitivity to their socially-inhibited children’s needs.
  • Encourage independence.
  • Provide and support opportunities for peer interaction (e.g., arranging play dates and offering structured social opportunities, such as meeting the child’s classmate at the park).

(Rubin 2002; Rubin et al. 2001, 2002).

Key Strategies

Here are a few key strategies to keep in mind as you stay sensitive to your child’s social needs and support their social development throughout childhood:

  • Acknowledge, then model. Acknowledge where your child is showing you they’re at by using clear, natural feedback. Then, if they’re ready, model (using your own words/actions/body language) a possible next step for them to try.
    • For example, you could say to your social-seeking child, “I see how disappointing it feels for you when the activity is over or when friends are all-done playing. It’s hard to feel disappointed, isn’t it? You can give them some time and space, and then check back in with them in 10 minutes.”
    • You could say to your social-savorer child, “I see that you’re feeling like you want to be done with the group. That’s ok. Why don’t you let the group know you’re feeling ‘all done’ and are going to take your last turn before doing something else for awhile? You can always check back in with them later if you’d like.”
  • Ask questions, and make suggestions. To encourage social communication with your child, ask questions or make suggestions to help them use language in different ways (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 2021). Here are some specific examples:
    • If you are trying to get your child to make a comment, try making an open-ended comment such as “Tell me about…,” or ask them the question “What did you do?”
    • If you are trying to get your child to state a request, try asking “What do you want?” or suggesting “Tell your friend you want to….”
    • If you are trying to get your child to ask a question, try suggesting “Ask me…”
  • Practice, practice, practice. If you notice that your child needs more help or support during social situations throughout the day, practice using everyday situations can be a helpful way to model new or developing social skills. Here are some examples:
    • Give your child the opportunity to practice asking questions by asking other family members what they would like to do on Saturday.
    • Encourage discussions with your child about other people’s thoughts, wants, and feelings and the reasons why they act the way they do.
    • Practice staying on topic while talking about a book, movie, or school event.
    • Allow your child to ask for what they need to make a recipe or complete a craft (ASHA, 2021).
  • Show how non-verbal cues are important. For example, look at pictures of familiar people in the child’s life and focus in on their non-verbal cues (e.g., their faces or body language may indicate how the person might feel). See how many “clues” they can find that tell them how the person in the picture is feeling. For older children, you can also talk about what it means when a person’s face doesn’t match what they say (e.g., sarcasm, humor, etc.).
  • Keep the balance. Depending on your child’s needs and thresholds, set aside time during the day for “alone time” as well as “together time.” This makes social situations more predictable and manageable for both the social-seeking and the social-savoring child.
  • …PLAY! Engaging in rich imaginary play experiences enhances a child’s ability to relate to others, develop creativity, and benefit from naturally-occurring social problem-solving with others.
  • Read about it together. Reading a book with your child can serve as another way to send a powerful message related to social-skill concepts you’re already talking about with them. Moreover, hearing and talking about stories (particularly those involving surprises, secrets, tricks, and mistakes) encourage children to see things from different perspectives!
    • Here are some recommendations for books related to making and keeping friends for children:

    • Here are some recommendations for books related to anxiety in children:

Note: Find the full list of books at the end of this post.

Additional Support

As parents, we always want to encourage our children to express themselves and their own unique characteristics and needs – while also encouraging and lifting them up in the areas where they may need additional support. If your child is showing differences or difficulties with applying social skills (e.g., difficulty making and/or keeping friends, entering into or interacting within groups, etc.), additional support is available. Depending on the nature of your concerns, a referral to Children’s Mental Health, Speech Therapy, or Occupational Therapy may be appropriate for your child. Our CORE Navigators at St. David’s Center are always here to speak with you more about your specific concerns and goals for your child.

CORE: Central Office of Referrals and Enrollment

(952) 548-8700

coreinfo@stdavidscenter.org


Bridget Topousis has been an occupational therapist for 10 years. At St. David’s Center she works with children and families on everything from identifying and treating sensory processing differences in young children to developing executive functioning strategies with adolescents. She has special interest and training in the areas of motor incoordination and dyspraxia, handwriting skill foundations and remediation, multi-disciplinary assessment teaming, and teaching and learning with occupational therapy graduate students and course instruction.


Book List

Here are some recommendations for books related to making and keeping friends for children:

How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them by Laurene Krasny Brown

Join In and Play (Learning to Get Along) by Cheri J. Meiners

Making Friends by Fred Rogers

Forever Friends Club by Gaurav Bhatnagar

Teach Your Dragon to Make Friends by Steve Herman

Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends by Dr. Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Christine McLaughlin

Social Skills Activities for Kids: 50 Fun Exercises for Making Friends, Talking and Listening, and Understanding Social Rules by Natasha Daniels

Here are some recommendations for books related to anxiety in children:

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Wilma Jean – the Worry Machines by Julia Cook

What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety by Dawn Huebner 

More in Insights
Close
Translate »