Hey, It's My Turn!
Ah taking turns. We’d all like our children to do it, but it sometimes isn’t easy! And it’s not only about taking turns during group games. Turn-taking is one of the foundational skills for effective communication and conversation and not all turns are made the same. So let’s delve into what this skill really means and what you can do to support your child to learn it.
What is it?
In terms of communication, turn-taking involves understanding that when I convey something, I need to wait for my partner’s response: I do something, you do something; it’s all about the back-and-forth.
Taking turns in a conversation is not all about the verbal. We’ve all seen those adorable Facebook videos of toddlers babbling away to each other, seeming to make no sense at all but clearly having quite a sophisticated conversation! It goes deeper than this. Some children may only just be developing their verbal language or be having difficulty establishing social interaction with another person. In this case, a turn can be as simple as making eye contact, smiling, leaning forward, pointing, making a sound, copying an action. It’s important that parents are aware of their child’s developmental level and aim for goals that are within their abilities. They might not have said “up!” to request another turn of being swung up by dad, but they looked, smiled and reached their arms upward which is a fantastic turn and should be celebrated.
What can I do to help my child take a turn?
For young children or those just learning how to take turns, you can give one or more of the following cues:
Just wait. Sometimes children just need a little time to respond, so don’t be afraid to do and say nothing for a few moments.
Lean forward expectantly. If your child is successful at reading body language, simply looking expectant can be enough to let them know it is their turn to respond.
Point. You can point out the toy you’d like them to pick up or the direction the game is going (eg. down a slide).
Give physical help. If the turn they must take is a movement (eg. waving bye), you can help them perform it or get them started (eg. waving back and forth a few times, then letting them continue). You should try the above cues first before giving physical help; give your child a chance to take a turn themselves.
For older children:
Give verbal cues. Stress the pronoun in the phrases you use (eg. “it’s MY turn”).
Ask. "Whose turn is it?" Nice and simple, this helps your child stop, consider and respond appropriately.
Point to the person. Be this yourself, your child or another person involved, providing a visual indication can help your child keep track of whose turn is next.
Use a picture card. As just mentioned, visual input can be super handy for children to learn what is going on. A simple coloured card labelling a turn, or even a little toy or other item, can be passed between you or around a circle to provide a constant visual reminder.
Praise the good. Say things like “I love the way you’re waiting”, “you knew it was my turn, well done!” can be a great reinforcer for your child’s positive behaviour. As with anything, it motivates them to do it again!