When talking about how to foster children’s socio-emotional development, we will naturally think about their social communication skills.

Social communication (also known as pragmatics) is the key to using language to interact with others. It is used for a variety of purposes, such as making requests, asking for more information, and making friends. It is one of the main areas of socio-emotional development and is used in multiple contexts across all ages.

As adults, we need to leverage social communication skills to successfully navigate job interviews, negotiations, responsibilities, as well as resolve conflicts or arguments. Children further apply social communication skills in group coursework, after-school activities, play dates and even when talking to someone unfamiliar.

Positive social communication is also of vital importance to enable children to protect themselves, especially when strangers come and talk to them. Additionally, it allows them to explore their self-identity, help gain friends and build meaningful relationships. On the other hand, children who have inappropriate behavior or fail to follow social norms may be seen as “rude” by others, making daily interactions harder and impacting their emotional wellbeing.

So how can I tell if my child is facing social communication challenges?

One of the typical signs that may indicate a child is struggling with social communication is if they are not reaching the communication milestones for their age. Knowing which skills develop when can help us see if a child may need additional support.

Below, our Speech-Language Pathologist, Tiffany Chen, shares her Social Communication Milestone Checklist to help us better understand children’s social communication development.

Social Communication Milestone Checklist (Age 0-16) 


0-18 months
  • Responds to voice and sound
  • Watches speaker’s face when spoken to
  • Smiles when spoken to (social smile)
  • Discriminates between strangers and familiar people
  • Establishes eye contact
  • Babbles to gain attention or make a demand
  • Brings objects to an adult to show them
  • Tries to gain attention by using sounds, gestures, grabbing others by the hand
  • Waves to say hello or goodbye or says the word “bye”
  • Requests things using gestures, sounds or words (e.g., reaches for the biscuits in the cupboard)
  • Protests by shaking head, vocalizing or pushing an object away
  • Comments on an object or action by getting the adult’s attention, pointing, vocalizing or saying a word (e.g., pointing to the dog and saying “woof woof” with the intention of showing the dog to the adult)
  • Looks at the speaker or responds with facial expressions, vocalizations or word/s when someone speaks
18 months – 2 years-old
  • Uses words or short phrases for various language functions (e.g., greeting: “hello”, “bye-bye”; protesting: “no”, “mine”; making a statement: “ball blue”; giving a direction: saying “ball” while pointing for you to get the ball)
  • Uses phrases like “What’s that?” to get attention
  • Names things in front of other people
  • Engages in verbal turn taking
2-3 years-old
  • Acknowledges their communication partner’s messages by saying things like “yeah”, “ok”, “mm”
  • Requests permission to do things (e.g., “Mummy, can I please go outside?”)
  • Engages in simple story-telling and is beginning to make guesses at what might happen in a story (inferencing)
  • Can participate in simple group activities
  • Begins using and displaying basic emotions (e.g., Happy, sad, mad)
  • Pairs gestures with words to clarify wants and needs
  • Takes 2 -3 turns in a back and forth conversation
  • Helps put things away
  • Participates in simple, make-believe activities
  • Enjoys being next to children of the same age
  • Begins to reason about feelings and link them to behavior (for others and themselves)
  • Repeats actions, words, expressions that make others laugh
  • Begins to adjust speech to listener (e.g., speaks differently to young babies)
3-4 years-old
  • Engages in longer dialogues
  • Practices conversation skills by talking to themselves
  • Maintains topic of conversation
  • Assumes the role of another person in play
  • Shows frustration if not understood
  • Expresses ideas and feelings
  • Makes conversational repairs when there has been a communication breakdown (e.g., I asked for the blue piece, not the red piece).
  • Talks about interests and feelings for the past and the future
  • Enjoys riddles, jokes and funny stories that involve “guessing”
4-5 years-old
  • Uses words to invite others to play
  • Uses language to resolve disputes with peers and to repair communication breakdown with peers
  • Shows pride for accomplishments
  • Boasts, exaggerates, and blends truths
  • Talks about imaginary conditions (“What if …”)
  • Relies on verbal rather than physical engagement
  • Understands simple conversation rules (e.g., turn taking, eye contact, topic maintenance)
5-6 years-old
  • The ability to tell stories develops and the child is now able to tell a story with a central character and a logical sequence of events, but may still have difficulties with the ending (e.g. “Once upon a time there was a little boy called Joe who has a sister and a brother and likes to go fishing. One day …….”)
  • Beginning to make threats and insults
  • May praise others (“Well done, you did it”)
  • Beginning to be able to make promises (e.g., “I promise I will do it tomorrow”)
  • Takes turns and shares
  • Participates in shared and group activities
  • Shows affection and caring toward others
  • Communicates more effectively with unfamiliar people
  • Announces changes in conversation topics
  • Chooses their own friends
  • Recognizes humor in simple jokes
5-11 years-old
  • Able to take turns in group conversations
  • Beginning to demonstrate an understanding of jokes, sarcasm and metaphors
  • Joins in and organizes role play with friends
  • Adapts their language and interaction skills to different people in different social situations with some adult guidance
  • Able to communicate about their own and other people’s feelings
  • Gives more information in conversation to repair a communication breakdown
  • Language is used to establish and maintain social status within peer groups
  • Considers the perspective of others and uses this information for more successful persuasion
11-16 years-old
  • Adapts their language to suit the situation and/or the listener independently
  • Able to negotiate with friends to resolve conflicts
  • Understands sarcasm and uses slang terms in their speech

If you observe that your child does not meet the milestone(s) for his or her age, or if you are seeking an inclusive and supportive bilingual environment to promote your child’s socio-emotional wellbeing, join ELG’s Social Skills Group! 

We help children to foster their confidence and a sense of achievement through meaningful group activities, enabling every learner to explore their full potential in the areas of: 

  • conversational skills

  • self-expression

  • emotional regulation 

  • following directions

  • sharing and turn-taking

  • problem solving

  • join attention

and more….

Any family who is keen to develop their child’s socio-emotional, speech-language and sensory skills, as well asgain academic/social support outside of their child’s school or kindergarten, would benefit from this valuable social skills group that aims to help children establish positive and rewarding relationships with others.

Children will be grouped according to their age, language, ability, and needs. Target skills will be tailored to most benefit all group members. We commit to having a maximum of 6 members in each group and a high adult-to-child ratio (3 children to 1 adult) to ensure every child receives highly individualized attention and support. 


Pragmatic Milestone Checklist adapted from 

  • https://childdevelopment.com.au/areas-of-concern/play-and-social-skills/social-communication-pragmatics/

  • http://www.amythorneallisonslp.com/uploads/6/2/8/4/62847301/social_language_developmental_milestones.pdf