How to teach your child to take turns

Being able to take turns one aspect of behaviour that children learn from a young age.  

Whether they’re playing with siblings, classmates, or friends at the park, the ability to take turns and cooperate with others is fundamental to your child’s chance of enjoying healthy social relationships.  

Here, the Kids First Children’s Services team explores the common challenges children may face as they are learning to cooperate with other kids and shares practical behaviour strategies you can implement to help your child improve their turn-taking skills. 

How to help your child learn to take turns

Turn-Taking: Common Behaviour Problems

Many children encounter obstacles with turn-taking at different stages of their development. Some of the most common social behaviour issues that parents and teacher observe include: 

  • Impatience
    Your child may struggle to wait for their turn, leading to interruptions or attempts to dominate interactions. For example, if they interrupt during a conversation, you might say, “I understand you’re excited to share, but it’s Sarah’s turn to speak now. Let’s wait patiently.” 

  • Selfishness
    It is normal for a 2 to 5 year old to feel like they are the centre of the universe! They may find it challenging to share resources or consider other people’s needs, and to prioritise other people’s desires ahead of their own. To address this, you can encourage sharing by saying, “It’s Jack’s turn to play with the toy car now. When he’s finished, it’ll be your turn.” 

  • Lack of Awareness
    Your child might not recognise social cues indicating when it’s their turn to speak, act, or participate in activities. You can help by gently prompting them with reminders like, “Remember, it’s polite to wait for your turn before speaking.” 

  • Difficulty with Negotiation
    Your child might have trouble resolving conflicts or disagreements with peers, leading to conflicts or power struggles. Teach them problem-solving strategies such as saying, “Let’s take turns playing with the ball. You can have it for five minutes, then it’ll be Sam’s turn.” 
Parents can help their children learn how to take turns

Practical Strategies to Improve Turn-Taking Behaviours 

As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. The turn-taking skills your son or daughter learns at home are the ones they will take into the playground and classroom, so it’s important to be consistent in the way you encourage the development of your child’s ability to share and collaborate with other kids. . 
Here are some specific strategies you can employ to support your child’s development of turn-taking skills: 

  1. Model Turn-Taking
    Actively demonstrate turn-taking behaviours in your interactions with your child and others. For instance, during a family game, say, “Now it’s Daddy’s turn to roll the dice, and then it will be your turn.”

  2. Practice Patience
    Create opportunities for your child to practice waiting for their turn in various situations, such as during conversations or while playing games. Acknowledge their efforts with praise, such as, “I’m proud of you for waiting patiently for your turn.”

  3. Set Clear Expectations
    Establish clear rules and expectations for turn-taking in different contexts and reinforce them consistently. Use phrases like, “In our family, we take turns when playing games. It’s important to wait for your turn.”

  4. Use Visual Aids
    Utilise visual cues, such as a timer or a designated object, to help your child understand when it’s their turn and when to wait. You can say, “When the timer beeps, it will be your turn to speak.”

  5. Role-Play Scenarios
    Engage your child in role-playing activities where they can practice turn-taking skills. Encourage them to take on different roles and scenarios, reinforcing positive behaviours with specific feedback, like, “I like how you waited for your turn to talk.”

  6. Provide Positive Reinforcement
    Celebrate and reinforce your child’s efforts and successes in demonstrating good turn-taking behaviours. Offer praise and encouragement, such as, “You did a great job sharing your toys with your friend. That was very kind of you.”

  7. Teach Problem-Solving Strategies
    Equip your child with strategies for resolving conflicts or disagreements with peers, such as taking turns or finding compromises. Role-play scenarios and provide guidance on how to express their needs assertively while considering others’ perspectives. 
Parents play a vital role in teaching their child how to take turns

Kids who can take turns make friends

Improving your child’s turn-taking skills requires specific strategies tailored to their individual needs and developmental stage. The concept of ‘sharing’ is not easy for a 2 year old to understand, however, by the age of 5, a child should have the jist of it, so make sure your expectations of your child are realistic. 

By understanding the importance of turn-taking, recognising common challenges, and implementing practical and specific strategies, you can support your child in developing essential social skills that will benefit them throughout their lives.  

Remember to be patient, consistent, and supportive as your child learns and grows. With your guidance, they can become confident and considerate playmates. 

Worried about your child’s play skills?

If you’re facing challenges in supporting your child’s social development or have questions about their turn-taking behaviours, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team of paediatric professionals at Kids First.  

Our multidisciplinary team, including Child Psychologists, Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, Early Intervention Specialists, and Special Educators, is here to provide practical advice, personalised strategies, and support tailored to your family’s needs.  

Together, we can help your child to thrive socially and achieve their full potential.  

Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step towards helping your child make and keep friends 

Contact us on 9938 5419.

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