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Understanding trouble with social skills

By Understood Team

Social skills help us connect with other people and have successful interactions. Trouble with these skills can cause problems in many areas of life. That includes school, work, home, and out in the community. 

Struggling with social skills is different from not “being social.” People may want to interact. But when they do, it doesn’t go well. They might struggle to make conversation, seem out of sync, or behave in a way that turns off other people.

People may have trouble picking up on social cues and following social rules. That can make it hard to fit in, form friendships, and work with others. People may avoid interacting and feel isolated and alone with their struggles.

People have difficulty with social skills for different reasons. Sometimes, the cause is temporary. But trouble with these skills is often part of larger, lifelong challenges.

That doesn’t mean social abilities are set in stone. There are ways to build skills so it’s easier to connect with other people and have better interactions.

What trouble with social skills looks like

There are different types of social skills people struggle with. One is picking up on social cues, like body language. Another is following social rules, like saying “excuse me” or not interrupting. 

Not all people struggle with the same social skills. But here are some common difficulties you might see:

  • Talking too much

  • Not understanding sarcasm

  • Sharing information in inappropriate ways

  • Taking metaphorical things literally, like “I’m so mad I could scream”

  • Not recognizing when people look or sound annoyed

  • Being a poor listener

  • Withdrawing from conversation with others

Learn more about social cues and social rules .

What can cause trouble with social skills

A number of factors can affect how people interact with others. Some common ones include:

  • Trouble with self-control

  • Communication difficulties

  • Language barriers

  • Mental health issues like anxiety and depression

  • Stressful situations at home

There are learning and thinking differences that directly impact social skills. ADHD is one of them. People with ADHD are often impulsive and may say things without thinking. Trouble with focus can make people with ADHD zone out when other people are talking. Autism can also create difficulty with social skills.

Find out more about how ADHD affects social skills .

How to improve social skills

There are many ways for kids and adults to practice and improve social skills. Kids might participate in a social skills group at school. Adults might join a club or a class with people who share similar interests.

Role-playing social situations can help kids and adults prepare for interactions. So can coming up with a list of appropriate topics to talk about.

Struggling socially can take a toll on self-esteem. It helps to know that everyone struggles with something, and that social skills can improve. 

For families: Get tips for role-playing social situations and social skills groups .

For educators: Get information on social-emotional learning

Related topics

Social skills

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom