Here on the CLEAPE site, we propose that social skills build on each other and can be directly taught to children. From the earlier skills of parallel play to the higher level skills like empathy, the articles in this domain will help you navigate where your child is in terms of his or her social development, and whether or not professional help is needed.
The most basic social skill is ‘presence.’ Presence is the skill of being physically around other children and requires mostly motor skills. An example of presence might be that your child is able to go up and down the slide whilst another child is doing the same. Companionship is the next level social skill. Companionship is the skill of ‘palling around’ with someone else. This is the stage where parallel play occurs. For example your child might be in the sandbox with another child, both playing trucks, but not together. Again, parallel play relies mostly on motor skills.
Next in the chain is interacting with peers. Interacting means actually playing together. For the example in the sandbox, your child and a new friend might start playing bumper-cars with their trucks or pushing the trucks up the slide together. The skill of interacting relies somewhat more on communication than motor skills as non-verbal communication begins to emerge. At this point, higher order social skills develop, and children are talking more, rather than simply playing together. Conversation is the next level ability in the social order. Conversation relies on communication skills; not as much on motor skills. This is the ability to have a to-and-fro, reciprocal conversation with a peer.
Empathy is the next higher social skill. This means the ability to feel, understand, and acknowledge how another child feels. Empathy relies on emotional awareness, more so than motor or communication. Empathy builds on the other skills mentioned above and may require direct teaching. In order to have empathy, a child must be able to take another’s perspective, consider their points of view, read body language, consider cause-effect relationships, and assess how a person would feel in a given situation. Empathy is a pre-requisite for the highest level social skill, which is intimacy. Intimacy again relies on emotional awareness, both assessing one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. Intimacy is the ability to develop a trusting, caring, close relationship with someone else.
These building blocks, then, progress from the motor skills where your child learns presence, and companionship, to the world of communication where he begins interacting and having conversations with peers. The higher level skills occur in the world of emotional awareness where children learn empathy and form intimate, lasting relationships with peers.