Taking Turns

Why is my child having trouble with turn taking?

When looking at our child’s skills, we will commonly be puzzled to why they are having so much trouble completing a task that we take for granted. The role of an occupational therapist is to break down the smaller steps that are required for your child to be successful in completing a skill such as turn taking.

Turn taking is actually really complicated and requires a huge number of smaller skills to be developed first. These skills include (but are not limited to):

  • Understanding what a turn is
  • Self-regulation
  • Understanding why we share (e.g. it can help make and keep friends)
  • Knowing when to start and end a turn
  • Knowing what to do when waiting for their turn
  • Understanding when they share a toy it will be returned to them

Is there anything I can do at home to support?

Using language to support turn taking – Use language such as ‘your turn, my turn’ until your child recognises the order of turns. Provide hints when they make a mistake about whose turn it is, such as ‘whose turn is it after Mum?’ or ‘I think you just had two turns’. If your child is uncertain whose turn it is, start the sentence ‘it’s y..’, then wait to see if they pick up that it is their turn.

Starting with two players - Allow your child to build their waiting skills between turns by starting with two players. Slowly build up the number of players as your child begins to tolerate waiting for their turn.

Praising your child when they initiate turn taking – such as ‘thank you (child’s name) it is my turn’, ‘great turn taking’, and ‘good remembering whose turn it is’.

Discussing emotions – Build on your child’s development of perspective taking by asking questions such as “How would you feel if I skipped your turn? That’s how I feel right now too.”

Practicing turn taking in daily activities – e.g. when dressing, you put on one shoe, they put on other shoe or when eating, you take an item, they take an item.

Play games at home to encourage turn taking, which can include:

  • Memory card games
  • Jenga
  • Uno
  • Throwing/kicking a ball
  • Shooting hoops
  • Connect 4
  • Guess Who
  • Battleship

Resources to support taking turn can be found on the Talking Matters website here: https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/social-stories/ (‘Being a Good Friend’ and ‘Listening is Cool’) https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/resources/play/ (Let’s Play).

How can an occupational therapist support these skills?

It is common that families and teachers will identify concerns with specific skills such as turn taking. Occupational therapists are trained to analyse your child’s current skills and difficulties to identify smaller goals your child will need to achieve as stepping stones towards achieving a larger goal, such as turn taking. As every child is different, the skills that one child needs support in, is likely to be different to another child. Hence a thorough assessment is always the place to start. Supports for working towards making friends may include, but are not limited to:

  • Identifying if any of the above skills are lacking through the assessment process
  • Developing skills through fun and creative activities
  • Providing visual guides for steps
  • Breaking down steps into smaller achievable steps.
  • Supporting parents to develop their child’s skills at home, school and in the community
  • Developing social skills through group programs (see Talking Matters website for further information https://www.talkingmatters.com.au/about-us/group-programs/)

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