Socialising with other kids requires many skills, including talking and expressing thoughts and ideas, showing interest in others, sharing, taking turns, and listening and understanding what others say. Socialising also relies on non-verbal behaviours, like using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, and knowing how close to stand to someone, or whether it’s okay to touch someone.
Social rules or norms can be hard for some kids to understand and learn. They are not written down anywhere. For example, some kids might be unsure how to start a conversation with another person or how to have a back and forth conversation with someone.
Many things impact our social skills and the way we interact with others. This includes personality traits (e.g., a shy and quiet child versus an outgoing and energetic child), mental health (e.g., feeling sad or low, compared with feeling happy and energised), our ability to regulate emotions (e.g., coping with stress or frustration), and our cognitive and communication skills (e.g., talking, using and understanding gestures, reading facial expressions, controlling our impulses). Kids with challenges in these areas can sometimes find social situations more difficult. The amount of challenge experienced may change depending on the activity or the group of people (e.g., larger or small groups, older kids or younger kids).
Some kids with developmental delays or difficulties can experience more challenges in social situations. For example, a child with autism spectrum disorder may be happy playing with one child, but may feel overwhelmed when two or more kids are involved. A child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may interrupt others, have trouble waiting their turn, call out, or can be highly active, which can make it harder for them to make and keep friends.
Kids might not know how to say hi and chat to others, make new friends, share items, and play in a group. The child may stand away from the group and appear to be alone. It may look like the child doesn’t want to talk or play with others when they might actually be avoiding it because they are feeling nervous or worried.