Pragmatics & Social Skills

Does your child ever blurt out seemingly rude comments to others or have trouble telling parts of a story in a logical order? If so, they may have pragmatics problems. Pragmatics and developing social skills for kids is something that takes time, but when not using language appropriately seems the norm for your child, it could be a sign that something more serious is going on. Pragmatic problems can make it more difficult for children to fit in and be accepted by their peers, as well as engage in everyday conversation.

What is Pragmatics?

Pragmatics is the unspoken rules of spoken language that tell us how to use language appropriately in social situations. For instance, you wouldn’t speak the same way to a toddler as you would to an adult, and you know that in conversation you take turns speaking and there is a natural back-and-forth. You do not really think about these things, you just do them. However, when children struggle with pragmatics these skills do not come naturally to them. You may have heard of this being called a social communication disorder.

Improving and Developing Your Child’s Social Skills

If your child is always interrupting or dominating a conversation, or blurting out rude comments, it is not because you have not taught them manners or how to be polite. They just have trouble learning and applying certain social skills when it comes to a language. Pragmatics affects three major areas of communication:

Using Language for Different Purposes

Children with pragmatic problems have trouble figuring out the appropriate way to say things in a given situation. Purposes include:

  • Greeting others (saying hello or goodbye)
  • Informing (I’m going to get the ball)
  • Demanding (Give me the ball)
  • Promising (I’m going to get you the ball)
  • Requesting (I would like the ball, please)

Changing Language According to the Situation or Listener

Children may speak the same across all situations regardless of where they are or who they’re talking to. Normal changes in language include:

  • Changing how you speak to a baby versus how you speak to an adult
  • Providing context or background information to a listener if they are unfamiliar with what you are talking about
  • Using a quieter voice indoors than you would use outside on the playground

Following Rules for Conversation or Storytelling

There are certain rules we follow when talking to others or telling stories that are unspoken. When a pragmatics problem exists, children may not understand some of the following rules:

  • Taking turns when talking to someone else
  • Initiating a new topic of conversation
  • Staying on topic during conversation
  • Saying things in a different way if the listener has trouble understanding
  • Using verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Maintaining appropriate boundaries and respecting personal space
  • Using appropriate facial expressions and eye contact

One thing that it is important to keep in mind is the social conventions of the person being spoken to. Different cultures may have different rules or expectations.

How to Determine if my Child has a Social Communication Disorder

All kids struggle now and then in certain social situations, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a social communication disorder. To determine if your child has a social communication disorder, testing and evaluations need to take place to identify the extent of the issue and how it impacts their communication.

As a parent, you may notice signs of a pragmatics and social skills issue such as:

  • Saying inappropriate or unrelated things during conversation
  • Telling stories in a way that is disorganized or doesn’t make sense
  • Not having much variety in the language they use when communicating
  • Taking things very literally and not understanding jokes or sarcasm
  • Having little interest in social interactions with others
  • Trouble making inferences when things are not stated explicitly

If you notice any of these issues when your child tries to communicate, they may have a social communication disorder. At PediaPlex, we can determine if your child has a social communication disorder and offer a variety of treatment approaches to address pragmatics and developing social skills in kids. Take a moment to fill out our patient intake form and someone will get back to you soon to discuss your concerns.

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