Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Identify the Signs - Does Not Interact Socially (infancy and older)

Social skills are some of the most important skills that your child will learn and they begin developing in infancy! Here is some information on typical early social skills, things you can do at home and red flags that indicate a possible problem.

Typical Development of Social Skills

It seems strange to be thinking of a baby's social skills, but they are very social creatures. Babies smile and make eye contact. They should be searching your face and imitating your facial expressions. And their first attempts at a verbal communication is cooing and gooing to get your reactions!

At just a few months old, your baby can smile purposefully in your direction to get you engaged with him. Have fun with this! Anticipation-based games like peek-a-boo and simple tickle games begin to teach your child about turn taking and interactions. Your infant will be able to tell your moods, too. You may notice that his facial expressions match yours.  Long before his first birthday, your child will be interacting with peers, he will imitate their sounds and gestures and while they won't play together, yet, they will be aware of each other's presence.

At around a year, your baby will experience some (seemingly) less positive social behaviors like stranger anxiety and separation issues. These are normal, to a point, and show that your child has an understanding that there are people he knows and others he does not. This is a safety issue and good for your child to understand.

Throughout his second year, your toddler will learn to communicate with you with gestures and words. He does this to get desired objects, request actions and draw your attention to something interesting. He should be making friends and playing along side them (parallel play). He will probably be learning to share (now and over the next few years!) and learning to accept it when you say "no." Independence is a skill that is beginning to be developed and you will probably hear a lot of "no, mine!" or "I do it!"

Between the ages of 2 and 3, your child will learn to show affection, understand to a minor extent the feelings of others and have a few special friends.

After the age of 3, your child will be sharing, beginning to respect the property of others and using his words (instead of getting physical) to communicate with peers.

By preschool children should use basic manners, understand and appreciate differences in others and problem solve with peers.

What can you do at home? 

With very young infants you can make exaggerated facial expressions and simple actions like sticking your tongue out. When your infant attempts to imitate, your pleasure and excitement encourage him to do it again.

Your older baby needs frequent interactions with you and other babies his same age. Play groups are a great place to have these needed interactions. Play lots of social games like peek-a-boo or "where is Mommy? Here I am!" I like to sing a little version of Where is Thumbkin while I am getting Baby W dressed. It goes something like this "Where is W? Where is W? (then when his head pops through his shirt) There he is! There he is! First we'll put your arm through. (put one arm in his shirt). We'll do the other arm, too! (do the other arm) Now, we're dressed! Now, we're dressed!"

Responding to your child's attempts at communication is one of the most beneficial things that you can do. When they are babbling, you can imitate it. As they get a little older you can assign a logical meaning to the sounds they make. For example, I heard a child say "i wi da" as he was eating something yummy. So I said "you like that! I like that too!" Did he really say "I like that"? I don't think so, but he began to realize that his sounds have meaning and that he can have an interaction with others using his words.

I think that the separation anxiety and stranger awareness time can be a challenging one for parents. It's hard to give your 11 month old to the baby sitter when he is clinging to you and crying, even though you know that she is safe and he'll be happy in about 1 minute! I had an interaction with an old friend this weekend at a grocery store. I have not seen her in over a year so she was admiring my baby. It was interesting to see him interested in her and her pleasant smile and sweet baby talk, but he kept looking to me to make sure that it was ok. As soon as he saw that I was smiling and nodding, he would look back at her and enjoy the interactions. When my daughter was younger, I would give her a hug and kiss, tell her that she would be ok and that I would be back soon. Kids need to hear that mommy will be back. I tried in the morning to alway prepare her for the day ahead. I would sing (I sing a lot!) "Today is Monday. Today is Monday. Monday Mommy works and you go to Nana's. Come on you happy children, come on and sing with me." It seemed to help her with the separation when she knew ahead of time what was happening.

It's important to help your children to remember to use their words, but it's most important to teach them what those words should be. Recently, my daughter had some difficulty with a friend at school who took her toy. So we practiced what she should say if/when that happens again. "When you are done with that, may I play with it" or "Can you give it to me when you are done" or ... we let her come up with what she thought she should say. We practiced her saying it and hopefully when an adult tells her in the future "use your words" she'll remember what words she is supposed to use!

Role playing at home can really help with social skill issues. Last year, towards the end of the year, Big Sister was in the habit of hug-tackeling her friends. We practiced the appropriate way to greet friends, how to hug and when to use just words to get their attention. We role played multiple time and then reviewed it verbally in the mornings before school. It helped! No more hug-tackles!

Sometimes social skill issues just need a little focus at home, other times there are more serious, underlying issues that need professional help. Here are some red flags:

Red Flags

Infant - not interacting with close caregivers (mom, dad, grandparents who babysit frequently)
Toddler - not interacting or attending to peers
Preschooler - overly agressive with peers most of the time
School Age Child - lack of understanding other's feelings

If your child demonstrates any of these red flags or seems to be behind on his social skill development, please talk with your pediatrician and seek out a professional Speech Language Pathologist in your area. If you are in the Central Florida area, feel free to contact me. If you are not or are looking for more resources, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association has a pro-search feature. Check that out here.

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