Have you ever wondered when kids should start sharing and taking turns? Or how to support them as they learn these challenging skills? Our friend, Becky Bowen, M.A. CCC-SLP, is here today to help!
My daughter was about 6 months old, just starting to sit up without support, the first time I told her to share a toy.
I had gotten together with several other moms for a “playdate,” (really just an excuse for mothers of infants to interact with someone who could talk back for a few hours). A slightly-older crawler was interested in the toy keys my daughter was gnawing on and, like any mother who wants to raise a sociable and likable little person, I wanted her to share.
Taking turns and sharing are critical stepping stones on the way to more complex social interactions. The ability to make friends and be socially accepted begins with the desire to engage others through sharing.
Despite the social pressures of wanting our babies and kids to get along with others, take turns, and share – children actually don’t grasp the concept of sharing and taking turns until about 4 years of age. Before that there are several developmental stages they move through.
Stage 1: The switcheroo (0 to about 18 months)
At this age, children are just beginning to develop preferences for certain toys and objects. During this stage, a scuffle over toys is easily remedied by swapping the desired object with one of similar size and weight à la Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Stage 2: MINE! (18 months to 3 years)
Two-year-old logic dictates that if I’m holding it, thinking about it or looking at it, it’s mine. If you want it, it’s mine and if I’ve had possession of it in the memorable past it’s mine. Although this logic can be hard to deal with, it is a very normal stage of development for children. Managing your expectations and gently modeling sharing behavior yourself can make this stage more bearable.
Stage 3: Because you said so (3 to 5 years)
Three- and 4-year-olds understand the basics of sharing and turn-taking. Mostly, they know that their parents praise them for sharing and disapprove when they don’t do it. Frequent reminders are necessary, but they are in fact starting to act in a sociable manner – if only because you tell them to.
Stage 4: Reciprocity (5 and up)
As children approach school age, they become more aware of how others feel and how their behavior impacts their peers’ perceptions of them. They begin to grasp that their actions are related to reactions in others and how they are perceived. For example: When I yell at my friend, he cries. If I yell at my friend, people think I’m mean. At this point, kids share and take turns not only because they are told to, but because they reap the social benefits of doing so – other people share their things with them.
How to help your child develop sharing and turn-taking skills:
- Imitate your baby’s utterances and leave space for their reply. From the time your child beings to coo, you can imitate their sounds. This little game of vocalizing back and forth sets the stage for conversational turn-taking as kids get older. As your child’s language develops, you can leave space in the conversation to show them that is where they should talk. So when talking to your 10-month-old you could say, “Do you want milk or water?” Pause for three seconds, and if they don’t respond, answer for them. Leaving this wait time indicates to them that it is their turn to talk.
- Ball games. Rolling a ball back and forth, playing catch or playing four-square is a simple way to demonstrate how turn-taking works. It demonstrates that only one person can take their turn at a time, because there’s only one ball, and the game isn’t fun unless everyone gives up the ball and offers the next person a turn.
- Turn-taking games. Any board game or card game can be used to reinforce the idea that taking turns is fun. For younger children, preface each turn with, “My turn,” or “Jack’s turn” to draw attention to the fact that only one person plays at a time.
- Keep turns short. Kids have very short attention spans, and while they might tolerate someone else holding their toy for four seconds, they may not be able to handle 10 minutes. If you are taking turns, you want to focus on the fact that they will get the toy right back. Using a visual timer to limit turn time or singing a familiar song helps children understand that the turn won’t last forever. “Jack gets the truck right now. Let’s sing ‘Wheels on the Bus,’ and when the song is over, you’ll get it back.”
5 Tools to support sharing and turn-taking in kids:
1 || Visual Timer – A great way for kids to be able to see exactly how much time is left before it’s their turn!
2 || Kitchen Timer – An even simpler timer option to let kids know that the time is ticking, helping them wait their turn.
Latest posts by Rebecca Bowen (see all)
- THE ULTIMATE SENSORY EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS - March 18, 2016
- STUTTERING: WHEN TO WORRY AND HOW TO HELP - November 8, 2015
- SOCIAL SKILLS: 5 TIPS TO HELP SHY KIDS MAKE FRIENDS - September 30, 2015