How do you explain to your child the ‘rules’ around turn-taking?
Here is my turn-taking cartoon strip to get the steps straight in your head but also a great visual tool to explain it to your child from about 3 years of age onwards. Rather than drawing it ahead of time, I draw box by box and talk while I draw to explain what is happening and who is saying what. I find it helps to keep children’s attention, rather than them seeing a page of cartoons all at once. ‘When in doubt, say it with a pen’ includes more information on the benefits and ‘how-to’ of helping to explain situations to your child through drawing. For the littler ones, it is important to keep your language VERY simple. ‘Sarah’s turn then Jake’s turn’ or ‘wait’.
So let’s go through each of the pictures…
1. Use your words! One of the keys to sharing and turn-taking is learning to use your words instead of your hands, which ends up in ‘snatching’ and squabbles. You will at first need to model the words ‘can I have a turn?’ or for the younger ones ‘mine?’ or ‘my turn?’. It would be too simple if child 1 (with the toy) would simply hand it over to child 2, but normally this doesn’t happen. Instead, you get ‘NO!’. You may not need to step in, but ‘no!’ is usually an alert for a parent/carer to be there if needed.
2. The warnings. Once child 2 has used their words, I explain to them that they can step back and wait or otherwise ask for help from an adult. This is usually to place ‘warning #1’. Otherwise, child 2 will generally find ‘words haven’t worked for me, so I’ll take it with my hands’… Warning #1 usually goes ‘2 more minutes, Master 2, then Master 4’s turn’, keeping the language as simple as possible. After a minute, ‘warning #2’ gets issued – ‘nearly Master 4’s turn!!’.
3. Waiting. In the meantime, child 2 can choose to wait there in case they get lucky and child 1 decides to hand the toy over OR they can find another toy to play with while they wait. Occasionally this starts an opportunity to ‘swap’ if child 1 decides they then like the look of that toy!
4. Intervening. By this stage, you’ve given your final warning to child 1 and it’s now time to intervene. Again, warn with words before you take out of their hands (or they could point the finger at you for snatching!!). Keep the language simple with something like ‘Master 4’s turn now’. Of course there might be tears and this is where you will need to set the rules for child 1 now, ‘Master 4’s turn, then Master 2’s turn….wait…’ (and stick with 2 minutes). If the child is struggling to wait, you might try distraction instead and present a different toy or encourage them to leave the area to do something else with you.
And this is all assuming child 1 hasn’t already handed over the toy in which case I encourage ‘thanks’ (with an ‘eye connection’, that is, establishing eye contact) and enforce this for children 3 years and above. Kids have a lot to learn before manners explains when children are ready to learn about manners.
Ready to start?! Look at the pictures again and see if it makes sense. It might take practice to remember simple wording or to not step straight in, but a learning parent is an interested one!
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