Hesperian Health Guides
How children learn social skills
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We are not born with social skills. We begin to learn them as babies, as soon as we become aware of other people. As children and adults, we continue to learn and use these skills throughout our lives.
At first these social skills are very simple. A baby learns to return his mother's smile or a child learns to take turns while playing a game. But as a child grows older, he needs more developed social skills to get along with other people.
| 2 years old
||3 years old
||5 years old
The 'right' behavior for your child depends on his age. If you expect more than your child can do, you and he will both be unhappy. But if you expect too little from your child, he will not learn new skills. See more information on when children learn new social skills.
Like all kinds of development, children learn social skills in steps. To develop social skills, a child needs to become aware of other people's feelings. And she needs to learn how to share and cooperate with other people.
At first a child plays alongside other children. This means she enjoys being near them as she plays, but she does not actually play with them.
Then she learns to play with others. She learns to share toys and play games where everyone must cooperate.
As children get older, they need to understand rules and
be able to control their behavior.
Children first learn social skills by watching how parents and family members behave with each other. Children copy what others do and what they say as they interact with each other.
Playing with other children
As they play, children learn to follow directions, cooperate, take turns, and share. Play helps young children understand their own emotions, feel proud of what they can do, and develop a sense of who they are.
In the community
Outside their own homes and immediate families, children see how older children and adults talk, play, and work with each other. This is how children learn ways to relate to people outside their families. And in the wider world that opens to them, children learn to practice different responses to situations and different ways of doing things. They develop social skills as they discover their own strengths and weaknesses.