Ways to Help Your Kiddo Learn the Importance of Taking Turns
Learning how to take turns might seem like a minor part of a childhood development that comes naturally over time. In reality, it’s actually a complex skill that doesn’t come easy for a lot of children.
Turn-taking involves not only the ability to wait but always an awareness of when one person’s turn ends and another’s begins. This is compounded by the subtle social cues and rules of communication that takes place when people talk or share toys, or participate in the classroom.
Turn-taking is a fundamental part of how we communicate and socially interact. When children struggle, it can often take many forms. Some children interrupt people when they’re speaking or find it difficult to actively listen. Others don’t understand the rhythm of communication. Children who struggle with turn-taking in social situations often have trouble in school or building friendships with their peers.
So why do some children have trouble?
One of the most common reasons is speech and language delays. This happens when a child doesn’t develop their speech and language skills at the expected rate for their age. These developmental problems are quite common and affect about 10% of all children.
Fortunately, there are many strategies parents can do with their child at home to improve their speech and language abilities, encourage turn-taking, and promote conversational exchanges. I’ve outlined a few tips and best practices below:
- Play Games: Many of the most popular games you may have at home can help your child naturally learn turn-taking. Think Go-fish, Candyland, and Uno. You put a card down, roll the dice, move a piece on the board – and then it’s your child’s turn. For younger children who aren’t ready for board games just yet, insert turn taking into everyday play activities. I put a block on the tower, then you, then me, then you. Blowing bubbles is another crowd-pleaser.
- Promote Sharing: It’s not uncommon for kids to have a tough time sharing. However, as a parent, it’s important not to give in and let your kiddo run the show. That’s not how things work on the playground, at school, or when we engage in conversation. Make sure to insist that you always have a turn. Use helpful language and hand gestures: “First my turn, then your turn.” Practice makes perfect, so try to be consistent on a day-to-day basis.
- Be Responsive: Children communicate in a variety of ways, from babbling or crying as infants, pulling your shirt or using gestures as toddlers, to using words when they’re older. However, they express their needs, being responsive can promote their understanding about the value of communicating. Knowing someone will be responsive when they signal for attention helps them navigate the world around them.
- Ask Open-Ended Questions: Asking questions that prompt one-word answers, such as “yes or no” questions, limits the responses your child will have. You want to help them with their conversational skills, and this doesn’t happen when children repeat words they already know. Instead, try asking questions that start with “how” or why.” This will help your child learn to express their thoughts and feelings using different words and language.
- Use a Timer: Playground arguments between children can be commonplace if they’re struggling to take turns. Using a timer is an easy way to ensure everyone gets the same amount of time to play with a toy, or go down the slide, or partake in an activity. It helps reinforce the value and importance of sharing.
- Positive Reinforcement: Try not to raise your voice or accuse your child when they fail to take turns. Similarly, if your child refuses to give up a toy, don’t yank it from their hands (this can discourage generosity by making children even more protective). Instead, praise and celebrate them when they demonstrate positive behavior. “You’re doing a great job waiting patiently – good work!”
- Calmly Handle Undesirable Behavior: If your child becomes upset or disruptive, remove them from the activity and give them an opportunity to calm down. Speak slowly and use clear language when describing why they had to be removed from the previous setting, and use it as an opportunity for a learning experience.
- Seek Professional Help: As mentioned above, speech and language delays are a common reason many children struggle to take turns. If you are concerned about your child’s development, it’s important to seek help from a speech-language pathologist (SLP). They are the most qualified professional to help evaluate, diagnose, and treat speech and language delays, as well as other communication disorders.
About Leanne Sherred, M.S. CCC-SLP:
Leanne calls Austin, Texas home but studied Speech and Hearing Sciences at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. and gained her Master’s in Speech-language pathology from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. She has worked in pediatric outpatient clinics, schools, early intervention, and home health. Leanne is currently the President and Founder of Expressable, an online speech therapy company that envisions a modern and affordable way for anyone who needs speech therapy to access these vital services. You can check out her blog here.