3 1/2 years old lack social skills with adults

Hi Dear parents!

I have a 3 1/2 years old boy and a 2 years old daughter. My son is a quiet, happy and independent kid at home since he is born . He never had hard time going to daycare. He sleeps all night although he is a picky eater. He plays well with other kids and talks about everything at home.

However, we are noticing that he has hard time interacting with other adults, he talks like a baby to adults and makes silly moves toward them. He seems very shy and also he does not care or understand the social cues of adult world. and this has happened MANY times over the past years, like every single weekends! We have been told few times by extended family that we should consult professionals about him but honestly he is very good at home, plays well, listens well until we take him out he becomes someone else!

Also, he has no interest in learning alphabets or numbers. He just wants to play with toys but he loves it when we read books to him! Not sure if we should be worried abut this.

I am all confused and don't know what to do. We have spoken to daycare educators and they say he is good and not delayed but I started to wonder that this pattern of him being so uncomfortable and easily overwhelmed in public could be alarming. My only concern is how I can comfort him and help him to improve his interactions with other adults. Should I take him to a child psychologist? I am not into comparing kids with each other but honestly, I have never seen this behavior in any other kids, including his sister , cousin and friends. He is highly sensitive and I am not really into disciplining the kids so much. Should we take him out more and educate him about how he should behave? should we just understand him and keep him out pf those situations?

What do u suggest? What would u do if you had a kid with the same condition?

Many Thanks,

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

Dear Parent,

I have no professional expertise; simply experience through children of friends.  But here goes:

1.  I'm wondering how much language is playing a part of your son's behavior. It is clear from your message that you are not a native English speaker -- are you perhaps speaking your native language at home (which is a wonderful thing!), and that is causing your young son to have having trouble switching to English when he's around others?

2. If you've "been told [a] few times by extended family that [you] should consult professionals about him,"  why would you hold back?  Absent the potential language issue,  your son is clearly "processing" differently from a "neuro-typical" kid, and the earlier you intervene, the more you will be able to help him.

Please call the Psychiatric Clinic at Children's Hospital (Oakland) at 510-428-3570 to see if they take children as young as yours for an evaluation. 

I wish you the best in your quest.  Posting this message was a good beginning.

 All children are different and he is very young to interact with adults in an adult manner.  Give him space to be himself.  Do not push or pressure him to behave in a certain way other than being polite and saying"please" and "thank you".  He could also have anxiety around adults, as some children do.  When you read books do him, make sure you pick a few that are about the alphabet or numbers and show him the pictures as you read the story.  He may grow an interest.  He is young so take your time.  Do not compare him to others including your daughter.  Girls learn faster than boys, that's a fact.    Just love him and support him.  

Hi Mom.  It sounds like you are worried your child should be doing more than he is currently capable of doing. 

There is a saying by Magda Gerber, "if he could do it, he would."  When children aren't doing something we want or expect, it's because they are not yet developmentally able to. It's we who need to adjust our expectations. I would invite you to trust the people at daycare who have a lot of experience with young children. This sounds to me like a pretty normal little boy. 

I am an early childhood teacher getting MA in human development. It takes years for children to develop into adults. He is busy doing the things he needs to learn right now.  Learning about himself and his value through his interactions with you, learning how the world works at home and outside. They are taking so much in. Preschoolers are interested in movement and playing and at this age; play and experience are HOW he will learn.  Academic stuff, like letters & numbers will come in Kindergarten. You can make a child learn their letters and numbers, but it is not what most educators consider appropriate for children this age. Have you ever heard of that book "Everything I ever needed to learn I learned in Kindergarten" -- he's in that phase of life. Trust that nature has a plan for his development and relax and enjoy what he CAN do right now. This is what children need most: your confidence and pleasure in what they are able to do right now.

Wishing you great enjoyment!

I doesn't sound at all worrisome to me. At 3 1/2, bad social skills are biting and hitting. Being silly and baby talk sound more like he wants to get attention from adults, which may not be desirable but is perfectly developmentally normal. If he sees his sister getting adult attention with 2-year-old behaviors, he may (with normal 3-and-a-half-year-old logic) think that he can get attention by doing the same thing she does. I think it can all be solved with some gentle guidance from you before a situation with other adults, some praise/acknowledgement/attention from you for behaving in age-appropriate ways, and patience.

This situation sounds very hard for you. It is obvious you want the best for your child. My recommendation: please please let him be him, and let him be a kid! Before social situations, sit down with him and preview what will happen. Ask how he is feeling about it. Tell him that he can have a safe quiet space if he needs time to rest and be away from the social pressure. Or come up with a special signal he can give you if he needs a break. Check these resources out: https://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/11/why-is-my-child-behaving-this-way-a-checklist/ and https://www.janetlansbury.com/2014/01/theyll-grow-into-it-trusting-children-to-develop-manners-toilet-skills-emotional-regulation-and-more/ Good luck!

I feel like this all sounds pretty normal but I am not entirely sure what you mean by not understanding social cues. 3.5 is still very young and I wouldn't expect my 3.5 year old to understand the adult world, it is not their world. Basic things like "I am hurt, don't hurt me" or obvious emotions (sad, angry, happy etc), is he having problems with that? Can you give some examples of what happens? Are these adults he knows or strangers? As for alphabets and numbers, I also feel like this is too young. My daughter can recognize some letters and some numbers but that's it, and we don't force it since she is not super interested. I would try incorporating it in play, counting things, putting rocks in 2 piles and figuring out which has more, and reading to him, which you are already doing. Have you tried talking to him about what makes him uncomfortable about other adults? Is he scared of his teachers? Sorry I have so many questions, I am just trying to get an understanding from his perspective. I think the fact that it only happens with adults and not kids is interesting and makes it much less concerning to me. If it was with everyone that would be a different thing. 

Your son sounds like a lovely kid. Do not worry. He is fine. Three year olds do all sorts of weird things while they are working on the next stage. If his preschool says he's fine, and he's good with you, ignore everyone else.


First of all, although I understand your concerns, I don't think you should stress yet. He's only 3 1/2 years old and kids mature at different rates. Especially since his daycare teachers think he's doing okay. 

You might want to look into getting him a neuropsychology evaluation. When my son was a toddler he was also highly sensitive and very immature when compared to his peers. He would get easily get overwhelmed with lots of people, loud noise etc. He was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and saw a pediatric OT from about age 3 to about age 7. It made all the difference. He is doing great now and you wouldn't know the challenges he had when he was younger. We lived in Seattle during this time, but he went to a clinic similar to this (I haven't been to this one, but this looks similar) https://www.playspacetherapy.org/services

I hope this helps!

Maybe he is HSP. You mention he is sensitive. There is an online test and it could give you perspective if he is. I am HSP and pretty sure I baby talked with adults when I felt shy until I was 9 or something like that, maybe older. http://hsperson.com/test/highly-sensitive-child-test/ There’s an adult test too on Elaine Aron’s website. My mom is also HSP. 

If the daycare staff thinks he is in the normal range I wouldn't worry. Usually they are the ones who notice first if a child needs help. Being a picky eater is pretty usual for 3 to 5 year-olds. You might want to go to a parenting class to get ideas on teaching him how to interact with people outside the immediate family and preschool. If you live in the village there are often educational and support groups, and Kaiser also has them as well.