Babies start to develop interpersonal relationships as soon as they are born. They ‘bond’ quickly with parents and siblings making eye-contact and recognising faces, voice sounds, tone and pitch. Smiles usually follow from about two months old and as any parent will know babies have a way of communicating that something is wrong from a very early age - if they are tired, hungry, in pain or need changing.
As children develop so do their interpersonal and social skills, around siblings and peers children learn to share and also to be assertive and persuasive. As children learn language they learn how to communicate in increasingly complex ways. At still relatively young ages children know how to communicate differently to different people - parents, siblings, grandparents and other people.
Children learn interpersonal and social skills based on their experiences – by what worked in the past. Young babies may scream to let their parents know they are hungry, a baby learns that when it screams it gets fed and therefore continues with this behaviour. Of course screaming for food becomes less acceptable the older you get – once some simple language has been learned it is more acceptable to ask for food. Later, with the right encouragement, children will learn that using sentences including the word ‘please’ to ask for food maybe their best strategy for success.
Interpersonal skills, however, go far beyond social niceties such as being polite and civil. As children develop communication skills so their interpersonal and social skills also mature. Many parents worry that their child (especially a first or only child) is lacking social or interpersonal skills – in most cases this is not true. However a child may be having difficulties with social interaction if:
- They have problems making and keeping close friends
- They are the victim of bullying or excessive teasing (a certain amount of teasing is normal)
- They are the culprit of bullying or excessive teasing of other children
- They are generally too domineering or too passive in problem solving and conflict resolution
- They do not behave appropriately in group situations, teachers may pick up on such traits
- They misunderstand conversations frequently and make irrelevant or inappropriate comments
- They misunderstand facial expressions and other non-verbal signs and make inappropriate comments or gestures
- They find it difficult to understand humour and/or use humour in conversation
- They interrupt conversations frequently and inappropriately.
Although the list above contains potential warning signs of a child struggling with good social and interpersonal skills it must be noted that most children will show at least some of the behaviours listed above at some time. If you are worried about your child or a child you know then you should seek some professional advice and help, it may be a good idea to start by talking to teachers and other parents. In rare cases children who struggle socially may be suffering from Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.