Early Childhood Intervention: Module One – Typical and Atypical Development

Social Skills

Social development is a broad term that describes how a child relates to others around them. The ability to share, to take turns, to understand someone else’s perspective, and to carry on a conversation with people a child knows and with strangers, with children their own age, and those older and younger, are  all part of social development.

Babies and children are social beings. Babies are born social. As they grow older, they learn how to act in socially acceptable ways. They learn how to do so by watching others around them.

  • For example, a child watching their parents being kind to others will likely develop a sense of kindness.
  • In contrast, witnessing violence, and especially at home on an ongoing basis, increases the chances that a child will use violence as an adult.

Children develop and refine their social skills mostly by watching others. A child’s culture and family structure will heavily influence what is viewed as socially acceptable behavior and what is viewed as as socially unacceptable behavior.

  • For example, children who are always teased may grow up thinking that teasing is a socially acceptable behavior; although feeling hurt, they might tend to tease others.
  • In contrast, children whose opinions are listened to and valued will most likely listen to and value the opinion of others.

Children’s environment plays an important role in shaping their social skills. Parents may not always be able to protect their children from outside circumstances, but they are able to provide them with a safe haven, inside the walls of the home. This safe haven is what helps children become healthy well-adjusted adults. Home stability and safety are key elements in the development of social and emotional development and the child’s overall well-being.

Children need to develop certain skills and achieve certain milestones in order to turn into socially competent grown-ups.

The following are the most important social skills/milestones that children need to achieve

  • establishing eye contact with others
  • establishing and maintaining eye contact with others
  • smiling, first as a response, then to familiar persons (one of the first signs of attachment), then laughing
  • enjoying daily routines (such as bathing and feeding)
  • establishing joint attention (see full Glossary) with others
  • establishing joint action (see full Glossary) with others
  • participating in simple turn-taking games (e.g. peek-a-boo)
  • playing alongside other children, or parallel play (see full Glossary)
  • making choices
  • imitating simple actions of others (e.g. clapping hands, waving bye-bye)
  • sharing (when being asked)
  • sharing spontaneously
  • saying “no” (first in perhaps socially “unacceptable” and then in socially acceptable ways)
  • playing with other children, or cooperative play
  • trying to comfort those in distress
  • asking for permission before using something that does not belong to them
  • putting toys (and other things) away, when asked
  • following simple rules (e.g. no jumping on furniture)
  • following complex rules (e.g. not hurting others’ feelings)
  • performing simple chores
  • answering the phone
  • conversing with someone on the phone
  • imitating complex actions of others (e.g. vacuuming, shaving, putting on make-up)
  • imitating complex expressions of others (e.g. honey, I’m home)
  • engaging in pretend play
  • having meaningful  conversations with peers, and then with adults in their family and home circles (for a few minutes)
  • negotiating with peers, and then with adults, in their family and home circles, and finding solutions to conflicts
  • choosing own friends
  • defending themselves and/or what is of their property in socially acceptable ways

2 comments


1 bronwyn { 03.27.13 at 12:37 pm }

My son achieved an A+ in Gr1 but with a note attached that his social skill needs attention…according to the chart he seems on par for his age…so what am I missing. He is a very friendly, sometimes free spirited in the sense where he’s fearless when it comes to speaking to strangers and is very opinionated, says things off the top of he’s head…he’s 6…is this not normal?


2 marip { 11.21.13 at 5:44 pm }

Hello Bronwyn, somehow we missed this comment a while back!The questionnaire will really point at areas for you to pay attention if you are concerned. It does not appear you are! It is also useful that you see ‘The Wonder that Is Your Child” and try and describe those traits that you term as “spirited” – sometimes it is not the being fearless when speaking to strangers, for example, but what is the context and does he know when it is ok for him to approach someone and when it is not. You may also want to go to the “online learning modules” 6 – 12 section for the social and emotional domains and see if you find more information of interest for you. My best! Mari

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