Turn-taking is a foundation for speech and language development. Think of language as a back-and-forth exchange system: one person talks while the other listens, and vice versa. The ability to understand and demonstrate turn-taking is a critical step in building speech and language skills in children. It’s the framework for which children will ultimately use their growing speech and language skills. Here are 7 ways parents can promote turn-taking skills in children:
Ways to promote turn-taking skills
- Play a turn-taking game. Choose an age-appropriate turn-taking game (e.g. Barn Yarn Bingo), and guide your child while you each take turns. Give your child hand-over-hand assistance as needed, and verbalize whose turn it is (e.g. “Mommy’s turn!” or “Your turn!”). Taking turns might feel very challenging and unfamiliar to young children, so be sure to make it a positive experience, and give your child lots of positive praise as they participate.
- Pass a ball back and forth. Encourage your child to pass the ball to you, by reaching out your arms and asking for the ball. Encourage your child to get ready as you pass the ball back to them. Rolling a ball back and forth mirrors the reciprocal interaction that occurs during verbal communication.
- Share a toy. Encourage your child to take turns while playing with their toy. Prompt them to give you a turn (e.g. “Mommy’s turn”), and give your child lots of praise when they share. Try to keep turns short and consistent, so your child sees that they will get their turn again quickly.
- Imitate your child. Imitation is a critical part of language development, and an excellent context for turn-taking routines. Imitate your child’s actions in a fun and playful way. For example, if your child covers their mouth, cover your mouth too. You might imitate speech sounds, gestures, or actions. Imitation games involve listening, watching, anticipating, and repeating: all of which require turn-taking.
- Create anticipation. Engage your child in routine games that create anticipation. For example, you might play peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake, sing songs, or read familiar books with repetitive phrases. During activities, pause and allow your child to anticipate what comes next.
- Wait for your child to respond. Show your child that you’re eager to hear their ideas, by actively listening. Lean in close, and give your child attention through eye contact and eager facial expressions. Most importantly, give your child ample time to respond by simply waiting.
- Talk about “talking-turns”. For older children, introduce the concept of “talking turns”. Encourage your child to let other people have their talking turn, and wait for their own turn to talk. You might even narrate this (e.g. “It’s mom’s talking turn right now” or “Now it’s your talking turn!”).