How to Help Children Learn Turn Taking?

Turn taking is not only an important social skill that young children need to learn. Experts suggest that it can play a significant role in building communication skills too. This is because back and forth exchange is the essence of meaningful communication. By taking turns through games and activities, children learn how to have conversations.  This also teaches them to engage with others during social interactions. 

Turn taking involves several skills that are crucial for social interactions. Children learn to wait, read non verbal cues such as facial expressions and body language, and to share when they take turns. Here are a few activities that can help children learn to take turns:

  • Games and Playtime

Games and play activities are probably the most commonly used to teach children to take turns. Multiplayer games can work better for older children because there is an inherent turn taking structure to it. Not to forget game components such as dice that serve as visual cues. Other games that involve drawing cards, spinning wheels, and board games with individual tokens for each player are helpful to learn turn taking.

Snake and Ladders, Ludo, Connect Four, Monopoly, are simple examples of multiplayer games. Snake and Ladders, especially, can be a fun game because DIY boards can be made at home with fun little customizations in every square to motivate children. For younger children, blowing bubbles or stacking rings can be good activities to teach turn taking

  • Mealtime

It’s important that children learn to wait for their turn in different social situations. While having dinner at home with family, at a restaurant, or during lunch hour in school, they need to know that they’ll have to wait until it’s their turn. Since verbal instructions may not be effective, visual supports can help in explaining this to children. 

  • TV Time

When we use everyday opportunities to teach turn taking, the strategies are regularly reiterated, thus helping children to learn better. Make a visual schedule for the child to understand whose turn is it to choose the movie the family will be watching. Include the child while making the schedule. Involving siblings can help too.

  • Everyday Conversations

OWL™ (Observe, wait and Listen™) is a great strategy to use during conversation with your child. It involves  allowing the child to lead the interaction. 

Observe – The child’s gestures, eye gaze, facial expressions and sounds about an object/activity of interest serve as clues. 

Wait – Give the child the opportunity to initiate communication or send a message through any mode of communication, gestures, or AAC.

Listen – Consider any sounds, verbal, or nonverbal cues from the child as their first turn.

Once the child has taken the first turn, respond immediately and start a back-and-forth exchange. Say something about what the child had just communicated and build the conversation.

Turn Taking Strategies

Children with developmental disabilities and cognitive deficits may struggle to learn turn taking. So it’s important to give them necessary tools to acquire this skill. 

  • Model Turn Taking

Children need to see examples of appropriate behaviour while taking turns. So, while playing games, or having conversations, draw the child’s attention to how you are taking turns. Providing positive reinforcement is also an excellent way to encourage turn taking.

  • Help Children Wait

What can children do while waiting? Keep a fidget toy or a book handy to keep them engaged. We can also teach them to count while they wait. Using timers to let them know when their turn is up can help children understand the concept better. Social stories and comic strips can also help children understand turn taking.

  • Vocabulary

It’s important that children have the vocabulary for turn taking. This includes phrases such as ‘My turn’, ‘Your turn’, ‘Wait’, ‘Stop’, etc. For high tech AAC users, these words can be programmed into their AAC systems. Flip cards and picture cards can also be used to communicate turns. For two-player games, cards with pictures of players on both sides of a card can be a great way to teach turn taking.

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