Understanding Pragmatics and Developing Social Skills

 February 12, 2020

If you want your child to behave properly, fit in anywhere he goes, and be socially apt, then you need to help him develop his social skills from an early age. 

In today’s post, we will help you understand everything you need to know about pragmatics and you can help your child develop his communication skills.

So without further ado, let’s dive in.

Social Communication (Pragmatics)

Social communication, or pragmatics, is the way we communicate in social situations. It is generally considered to be made up of the following 3 components: 

  • Ability to use language for various purposes such as to greet, inform, demand, command, or request.
  • Ability to adapt our speech according to the situation at hand. For instance, talking differently to adults versus a baby, talking louder when there’s a lot of noise, or talking in a low voice when conversing in a library.
  • Ability to follow the basic rules of conversation, such as taking turns, looking at the speaker, controlling facial expressions and gestures.

Importance of Pragmatics

In a nutshell, without proper social communication skills, it is impossible to build social relationships with other people.

Pragmatics is important in nearly every part of life–from making friends to attending business meetings to countless academic situations. Basically any activity where you have to work with your peers as a group or team. 

Pragmatics Milestones


  • Comment on things they see, such as informing the adults when they see a dog by saying “woof woof”
  • Often look directly at the speaker and respond with vocalization, including both real words and meaningless sounds
  • Can speak small phrases or a group of few words such as greetings (“hi”, “bye”) or protests (“no”, “mine”)
  • Use phrases like “it’s here” to grab your attention
  • Can name things
  • Engage in verbal turn-taking

Elementary School Children

  • Can correctly use common terms such as “this”, “that”, or “there’
  • Often use language to discuss emotions and feelings
  • Request or demand things. For example, “I’m hungry. Give me food”
  • Can describe a sequence of events such as — he sat on the bed, took off his boots, and went to sleep

High School Children

  • Know how to appropriately greet and approach people in different situations
  • Shift their attention to the person they’re talking to by using eye contact, hand gestures, and facial expressions
  • Can recognize and express feelings appropriately
  • Know how to keep conversations to an appropriate length
  • Can identify risky social situations and have strategies to stay safe

Signs That Your Child Has Major Problems with Pragmatics

Children who have pragmatic issues generally show some of the following signs:

  • Often have difficulty remaining on topic
  • Rarely try to gain the attention of adults or do so inappropriately
  • Often can’t interpret boundaries and the concept of personal space
  • Tell stories in an unusual or disorganized manner
  • Often stare too intensely at the person they’re speaking to or do the opposite and have trouble looking at them
  • Try to dominate the conversation and don’t listen to others
  • Don’t ask for clarification if they don’t understand what the other person just said
  • Often cannot interpret the tone of voice. For instance, have trouble separating a happy tone from an angry one
  • Find it hard to make and keep friends

Activities that Can Help Develop Pragmatics In Children

Here’s a list of 5 activities that can help your child develop social communication skills:

  • Roleplay: Encourage your children to indulge in role-playing games with yourself and their peers. Try different themes, such as going shopping, visiting a zoo, or having a birthday party at home.
  • Try turn-based games: Engage children with turn-based games including catch, cards, and board games. Such activities help children understand how to interact with others and also teach them that “it’s okay to lose”.
  • Talk about facial expressions: Look at different facial expressions and talk about the feelings associated with each expression.
  • Practice courtesy phrases: Encourage your child to say polite phrases such as “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, and “please”.
  • Read comic strips: Comic strips that clearly show how to react to a social situation are a great way to encourage socially responsible behavior in children.

How Can a Social Skills Group Help?

If your child has trouble with social skills, then he can benefit a lot by joining a social skills group for children.

Most children learn polite responses such as saying “please” and “thank you” by observing such behavior in others. However, children with communication problems think differently and struggle to pick up the subtle rules of etiquette. 

If your child is struggling with his social skills, then taking him to a social skills group is one of the best things you can do for him. By interacting with his peers, your child will develop lifelong skills that will serve him well through all phases of life. 

Here are some of the skills your child will learn: 

  1. Asking for help
  2. Greeting others
  3. Sharing and taking turns
  4. Responding to others
  5. Staring a conversation
  6. Holding a conversation

The right social skills group can equip your child with the skills and grace to shine in all types of social situations.

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