Info for parents and educators: taking turns

Taking turns is a difficult skill for young children to learn. Toddlers seem to have a universal rule, "if it is, then it is mine." That can be a hard pill to swallow if you are another toddler (with the same rule) or an older child with some understanding of sharing (with the same rule).

Besides the egotistical thinking young children have, there are multiple other things affecting how well they are able to take turns. There are communication skills, body awareness, space awareness, number awareness, knowing and reading others emotions, object permanence, attention - the list could go on and on! Helping a child with each individual component can be overwhelming and I like to keep it simple.

One way that I keep things simple is to watch for the small successes. Point out when a child does "the right thing" or a behavior you would expect to see when two friends are playing together. They may not have the whole socially acceptable routine for turn taking down, but maybe they offer a toy to another child. Maybe an adult says, "it looks like Bobby wants to blow bubbles," then the child looks at Bobby - giving the adult an opportunity to encourage sharing. A child could see another join the block area and push some blocks a across the rug to them. A completely non-verbal interaction, but still sharing. So tell them, "wow! You have him some blocks? That is great sharing," with a big smile on your face.

As a way to practice all of these skills, I have been searching for the small moments of success specifically in regards to turn taking. When I point out turn taking during the day, we add to our rainbow chain. It is simply a paper chain that is kept high enough out of little ones' reach in our classroom area (because I want it to last for awhile). I try to make sure do reference it at least once a day. Telling how proud I am that it is getting longer, we have a bigger rainbow because we are thinking of others feelings ams taking turns, and brainstorming future possible situations where we might take turns again.

For younger children (toddlers), the instant gratification of smiles and positive attention has been the most successful in my experience. The visual of the chain growing is more for the older children. I have had preschoolers set up situations for the purpose of turn taking just do that they could get credit for adding another color to the rainbow chain.

Now that all sounds lovely, but in practice it is much more real. Kids grab from each other, cry, break, hit, yell, hoard, and every other behavior that can be embarrassing for an adult to admit. When that happens, so long as everyone is safe, take a deep breath, remind yourself that they are still learning, and help them with the next step. Then carry on with all kinds of wows about how well they were able to _______. Fill in that blank with whatever small success you can find in the moment.

Some example of small successes are:
- giving a friend space
- talking calmly
- keeping hands to yourself
- offering an item (even if it is rejected)
- using words
- asking for help

How do you encourage sharing?