It’s very important for children to learn the concept of turn-taking. Taking turns demonstrates patience, cooperation, social etiquette, and can be a foundation for building relationships. But taking turns can be very difficult for young children with mental disabilities. They might not understand that the ball or toy will come back to them once it’s gone to someone else. They feel a sense of panic or frustration at the loss.
A child who can’t take turns will have great difficulty making friends, and is likely to struggle in school. So it’s a good idea to teach your child how to take turns.
Floor Play Provides Opportunities for Turn-Taking
At home, during floor play time with your child, you can encourage turn-taking skills. Toys that momentarily spin, light up, or play music are wonderful tools for this. Get on the floor with your child and manipulate the toy so that you take a turn, then give him a turn. These initial turns should be extremely short.
My son Kyle learned to take turns with a gadget where balls are dropped into a tube, making them spin for a few seconds. This stimulating activity was very appealing to him, so it provided a good opportunity for turn-taking. I would get down on the ground, kneeling beside him as he dropped the ball into the tube. When it fell out at the bottom, I would swiftly get the ball and say, “My turn!” and drop the ball into the tube. It happened too quickly for him to tantrum, and he was interested enough in watching the ball go down that he tolerated my intervention. I would then retrieve the ball and say, “Your turn!” shifting the toy toward him, and handing him the ball.
The key is to make the turns very, very short, so that within a few seconds the child has her turn again. In this way, the turn-taking is less threatening. Be sure to label the turns verbally, announcing, “My turn! Your turn!” each time you switch. Try having five or more sessions of short turn-taking play over several weeks before moving to the next step. Vary the toys or activities that you use.
Gradually increase the length of turns.
As your child gets good at tolerating these very short turns, start to increase their length. By now your child should have built up confidence that he will get his ball or toy back momentarily, so he should be able to withstand slightly longer intervals. When your son or daughter is patiently waiting for several minutes between turns, you can move to the next step.
Introduce other children into the floor-time play.
Using a sibling, cousin, or friend’s child, engage your child in short turn-taking with all three of you. You may want to explain to the other child that you are teaching your son or daughter how to take turns. Typically children are very eager to “teach” other kids, and you’ll probably have a very willing participant. Pass a ball back and forth, or engage in some kind of interesting play, each calling out “My turn!” You could try activities like rolling a ball, handling play dough, spinning a top, etc. If your child gets really good at the turn taking, find new ways to increase intervals, add more children to the play, and vary the activities in an interesting way.
Your child’s ability to take turns will eventually help him make and keep friends, and be more successful out in the world. So your time in this cause is well-spent.
Kristyn Crow is the author of this blog. Visit her website by clicking here.