“My child is in pre-school and we recently had his parent/teacher conference. His teachers indicated that he was having trouble socially and they thought a social skills group would be beneficial. I feel like he is just like all other 4 year old boys. Can you tell me what I should expect from my son from a pragmatic standpoint?``

Children with strong social skills are able to successfully interact with others.  They have the tools needed for effective interpersonal functioning and have learned proper social skills through observation and experience.  Young children with difficulties in pragmatics are less able to figure out how to behave in social situations and are less aware of how others respond to them.

When discussing children with possible social language disorders, it is important to confirm that their receptive (i.e., how well they understand language) and expressive (i.e., how well they verbally communicate) language skills are within average range.  Oftentimes, children who demonstrate poor pragmatics also suffer from receptive and/or expressive language disorders.   A few questions to consider: Does your child follow multi-step directions?  Can he point to pictures in books? Does your child communicate using full, grammatically correct sentences? Can your child carry on a conversation with you?  

Listed below are guidelines for social development of children ranging in age from 3-6 years.  

3-4 Years

  • Establish and maintain eye contact with a peer or adult when communicating
  • Take turns and share with children during play
  • Use greetings (Hi Rachel!) and farewells (Bye bye Mommy) with peers and adults
  • Make requests
  • Respond to questions
  • Use communicative functions such as role-playing, joking, teasing
  • Have a vivid imagination
  • Ask for help

4-5 Years

  • Prefer to play with other children rather than play alone
  • Maintain a conversation over many turns
  • Begin negotiating with peers and adults
  • Enjoy imaginative play
  • Play games with simple rules (e.g., Hide and Seek, Candy Land)
  • Begin to tell (and understand) jokes and riddles
  • Express wants, needs and thoughts with peers and adults
  • Distinguish right from wrong
  • Resolve conflicts

5-6 Years

  • Understand humor
  • Engage in back and forth communication
  • Modify speech according to listener’s needs
  • Play and negotiate with others
  • Demonstrate well organized play
  • Retell events and follow routines with ease
  • Recognize a socially offensive message and reword it in a polite form
  • Contribute appropriately to adult conversations