Parties, playdates, family gatherings. For many kids, these are fun social events. But not all kids like socializing. Some feel anxious in social situations. Some would rather play quietly by themselves, stand back and watch others for a while, or disappear into a book.
If your child isn’t very social, you may wonder if it’s simply a matter of personality. That’s one possibility. Like adults, there are kids who just prefer being in their own company and don’t need a lot of social interaction.
But for some kids, spending time alone isn’t just a preference. It’s the result of having trouble with social skills. They 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 kids.
Learn what it means for kids to struggle with social skills, and what can help.
What trouble with social skills looks like
Everyone does something that’s socially awkward sometimes. That’s not the same thing as having trouble with social skills.
Some kids have awkward interactions all the time, though. They might miss
that come from body language. So, they keep on talking even though the other person is looking away, bored. They may not follow
like waiting their turn to talk. So, they interrupt the other person mid-sentence.
When kids have trouble with social skills, it can show up in different ways
at different ages
. Sometimes, these challenges don’t appear until grade school or even middle school, when socializing gets more complex.
Depending on their age, kids might:
Talk too much
Not understand sarcasm
Share information in inappropriate ways
Take metaphorical things literally, like “I’m so mad I could scream”
Not recognize when people look or sound annoyed
Be a poor listener
Say inappropriate things
Not wait their turn to talk
Withdraw from conversation with other kids
Having these challenges doesn’t just impact kids’ social lives. It can also make it hard to connect with teachers, family members, and people in the community.
What can cause trouble with social skills
A number of things can affect how kids interact with others. Some common ones include:
Trouble with self-control
Mental health issues like anxiety and depression
Stressful situations at home
There are also learning and thinking differences that directly impact social skills. ADHD is one of them. Kids with ADHD can be
. That can lead them to talk nonstop and say things without thinking.
Trouble with focus
can also make kids zone out when other people are talking. And kids who are
might fidget, squirm, and act in ways that draw unwanted attention.
Nonverbal learning disabilities
make it hard for kids to understand communication that isn’t spoken, like body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. Kids with NVLD have trouble with abstract concepts and sizing up social situations. They may also have trouble with self-control.
causes the same types of difficulties as NVLD and it can involve language challenges. Kids may also have very specific interests that seem unusual to others.
What can help kids with social skills
If your child has trouble connecting with other kids or adults, there are lots of ways you can help. A good place to start is by taking notes on what you’re seeing at home. You may start to pick up on patterns that help you figure out why your child is struggling.
You may also want to talk to someone about the behavior you’re seeing. Your child’s teacher and health care provider can be great sources of information and advice.
Even if you’re not sure why your child is having trouble with social skills, there are ways you can help improve those skills at home. For example,
role-playing social situations is a great form of practice.
Struggling socially can take a toll on kids’ self-esteem and cause them to feel isolated. It helps them to know that everyone struggles with something, and that social skills can improve.