I’m sure we all agree that it’s a lifelong skill that’s important to have. Turn taking is a part of positive social relationships, helps to build friendships, and is crucial for communication -- conversation is an exchange of information.
For parents and teachers alike, the typical go-to for teaching this skill is to yell out, “You need to take turns!” Some common times we find ourselves saying this phrase over and over:
-playing with a toy
-playing a game
-during a conversation/when to talk
Well, if you are reading thing, I’m assuming the strategy of calling out “Take turns!” hasn’t been very effective.
Why does my child have a difficult time with turn-taking?
Turn taking actually requires the development of a few skills. Without having a good foundation in the following skills, taking turns will be difficult.
Theory of Mind - This is the skill of understanding that someone else’s thoughts and feelings might be different than your own. Research shows that is typically develops between 4-5 years old. However, for individuals with autism, ADHD, and other social communication challenges, this skill can be delayed. You will need to help your child understand that people want different things and think differently. Social stories and direct teaching can be helpful.
Example: “You like to push the train and Marcus likes to push the train. You can take turns. You push the train around the track. Then Marcus pushes the train around the track, and then you push the train around the track.”
Understanding non-verbal communication - If a child has difficulty with “reading” emotions, it can lead to difficulty with turn-taking. Reading non-verbal communication is a skill. Looking a facial expressions and body position can give clues to how someone is feeling, but this need to be taught directly.
The ability to wait - The idea of waiting can be very abstract. Sometimes waiting is just a few seconds and sometimes waiting means days or weeks. The more you can help your child build this skill, the better they will be with taking turns.
Social understanding of turn-taking - Does your child understand the “rules” of turn-taking? Some of the rules include: While one person has a turn, I will need to wait. I will get another when the other person’s turn is finished.
Can you see some problems that might happen? Your child might wonder, “When is the person’s turn finished? How long do I have to wait? When is it my turn?”
How to successfully teach turn-taking.
1. Show, don’t tell.
Use visuals. This can be a picture cards that shows “my turn,” “your turn,”or “wait.” It can be a chart or calendar to show when “who gets to go first.”
Use a timer. Understanding that their is a time limit helps make waiting more concrete. One of my favorite tools is the Time Timer(see below). It shows time moving. You can also use a countdown board.
2. Teach your child how to wait. Again, there are tools and direct methods you can implement to help your child with this essential skill. I will teach this skill in another post, but in the meantime, here are a few tips.
Start slowly. Begin with an activity that naturally provides a back and forth rhythm. Cause and effect toys are great for this! A toy train that you have to push the smokestack for it to move, a hammer and ball toy, or a music activated toy. Pair your words with a visual of “wait,” or “my turn, your turn.”
Praise your child when they are waiting. Maybe your child loves the bathtub. As the water is filling, show your child a “wait” card, and comment enthusiastically, “I like how you are waiting!”
3. Teach your child how to handle emotions.
Waiting can be very frustrating when you want something now. Acknowledge and validate your child’s feelings. “I know waiting is hard. Let’s take 3 deep breaths (or jump 5 times, etc…). You are doing a good job waiting!”
4. Practice. Practice. Practice again.
Learning to take turns develops over time. Be patient and find every opportunity you can to practice and generalize the skills needed for turn-taking.
Quick ways to practice taking turns!
Where does your child struggle most with taking turns? Share below in the comments and I’d be happy to give you some direction.
Now, let’s go play!!
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