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Navigating the Social World

by on 03/09/2021 2887

By LaVeina Sangaran (Psychologist at Oasis Place)

As social beings, we constantly interact and share space with others. We observe and partake in what’s happening around us. Since birth, we are expected to instinctively find ways to navigate through this complex and multifaceted social world. We are often expected to know what to do or not to do in any social situation. However, social skills are not as intuitive as we believe, as oftentimes, there are no clear rules and the same rule might not apply across different situations. For instance, while it is expected for one to sing their lungs out in karaoke sessions, doing so on public transport may garner unprecedented attention.

With academic knowledge, children receive formal education and are taught how to study, revise and apply their learnings. Nonetheless, social skills are not typically taught formally and there is no widely agreed upon curriculum or standardized manual on how to communicate and interact in an effective manner. Yet, social skills are crucial and serve as predictors of future success. Social skills, which include verbal and nonverbal skills that we use to interact and communicate with others, have been reported to help people achieve social (e.g. friendships, romantic relationships, jobs), emotional (e.g. stress management and coping) and interpersonal (e.g. asserting individual needs) goals. Additionally, social skills deficits, if not addressed, could potentially limit the possibilities for future interactions and further skill development through negative feedback. In the long run, it could be associated with psychosocial problems e.g. loneliness, depression, social anxiety, and health issues through elevated stress levels. 

Thus, it is essential to help children cultivate social skills to navigate their ever-changing and challenging social world. Instead of telling children what to do or not to do, it will be more helpful to build competencies that will remain with them and can be utilized across various social situations. We can facilitate this by inviting them to pay attention, interpret and problem solve before responding in an explicit manner. These processes are built upon one another and can be targeted for selected assistance if your child displays deficits in certain processes.

Pay Attention

Invite your child to make observations and draw your child's focus and attention to the relevant verbal and non-verbal cues of others and the context. For instance, you may model or invite your child to observe and report the facial expressions and behaviors of others in the playground or restaurant, or describe the setting as well as what is happening to the characters in books, online videos or movies. This will also help develop the awareness to monitor the reaction of others. 


Model and invite your child to explain or share insights on what he/she and others might be thinking and feeling in different situations. You can use emotional words such as happy, sad, angry, surprise, disgust, scared or other variations and intensities of these. It is also helpful to point out and invite your child to identify how his/her behavior might affect what others think and feel about your child which in turn affects how others react towards your child and how your child then feels about the response of others. You may also ask questions to help your child compare themselves in a similar situation to relate to others. This will help develop the ability to understand the plans, desires, and intentions of people (including themselves) in different situations.

Problem Solve 

Brainstorm possible responses based on desired goals and evaluate the likely outcomes through role-plays (create opportunities for the child to experience novel situations beforehand) and practice using rehearsed responses to common situations (e.g. smile or shake hands when introduced to someone new). This will facilitate flexibility in decision-making for social interactions in a more effective manner.

Ultimately, it is about practicing as many times as possible to make it easier for your child to carry it on their own and to have as much positive feedback from other peers and adults to encourage them further. This will help them feel more comfortable, competent, and confident in navigating their social world. Lastly, please remember that every child learns at their own pace and there is no end to learning social skills as it is about constantly improving through life.

This piece is written based on the author’s opinion and understanding of the source.


Hansen, D. J., Giacoletti, A. M., & Nangle, D. W. (1995). Social interactions and adjustment. In V. B.
Van Hasselt and M. Hersen (Eds.), Handbook of adolescent psychopathology: A guide to diagnosis and treatment (pp.102-129). New York: Lexington Books.

Segrin, C. (2017). Indirect Effects of Social Skills on Health Through Stress and Loneliness. Health&nbsp
Communication, 1-7. doi:10.1080/10410236.2017.1384434 

Segrin, C., & Flora, J. (2000). Poor social skills are a vulnerability factor in the development of 
psychosocial problems. Human Communication Research, 26(3), 489-514. 

Winner, M. G., & Crooke, P. (2019). The Updated and Expanded Social Thinking–Social Competency Model: Exploring Sensory Processing, Anxiety Management and Screen Time Overload! Retrieved from


Oasis Place, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is Malaysia’s largest multidisciplinary intervention centre, embracing a client-centered approach through transdisciplinary intervention. We offer all our assessment and therapy services onsite at our centre, offsite at schools, and online through OPConnect. At Oasis Place, helping people learn and grow is at the heart of everything we do. We work with all learning different individuals - from Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia to Down Syndrome. Our core services are Psychology, Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy, Continuous Education and Nutrition.  

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