WHY LONG TURNS ARE OK
As seen in the previous blog, turn taking is not when the caregiver decides the child needs to share a toy, but instead it is when the child decides she is all done with a specific toy. Then, since the child is in charge, she may choose to keep the toy 30 seconds or 30 minutes. So, what should we do when a child hogs the ball or decides to take really looong turn? Nothing? Indeed, we do need to do something, we need to keep our word. If you said to your child “You can play with your doll until you are done.”, then you need to keep your word and make that happen, even if it is a long turn.
Why do children take long turns?
Children who tend to take long turns do it because they primarily do not feel safe. They may hold on to an object to have control, to test an adult, or to see if we really mean “You can have it until you are done.” What matters the most is fairness and consistency. Children who were forced to share in the past, do not trust the system any more. As a result, they make take very long turns until they feel safe again, start to relax and then take shorter turns.
Another reason why children take long turns is that they are learning a new skill by practicing over and over, or in order to follow an intense interest. As a parent, we may find the repetition boring, but to them, pouring sand over and over for instance, is a learning process that should not be interrupted.
What to do with the waiting child?
Here is what can help her cope with a long wait:
· make a waiting list
· write a note such as “Carl gets the truck when Paul is done.”
· let your child be angry or sad and help her express them appropriately
· encourage the waiting child to let the other child know how she feels
WHY IT IS OK NOT TO SHARE
Almost all parents teach their child to share. A typical example is a preschooler who is playing with a toy when another one comes up and wants it. Then, the caregiver asks the first child to be nice and to share her toy.
For instance, it may look like "Ella, give Nancy the pony. You have had it a long time." So, the first child is forced to give something up and her play gets interrupted." Sharing might not feel very good to Ella. The child is not really learning how to share, but more how to give up when she is asked to.
If we think deeper about this situation, we may come to see that, as an adult, we do not share this way. Imagine yourself using your cellphone when someone comes up and asks you to make a phone call. Will you lend your phone right away? Probably not, unless it is an emergency. Instead, you will ask the person to wait until you are done. The same should apply to your child. Let your child keep the toy until she is done with it. You want your child to learn turn-taking and sharing, but it is best if it is your child who makes her own decision when taking turns instead of telling her when to do it.
What are the benefits of this approach for both kids?
1. When Ella says to Nancy "You can have it when I am done.", it does teach Ella assertiveness and how to stand up for herself. It also teaches her to set healthy boundaries with other kids.
2. When Ella drops the pony and moves on, remind her that Nancy is waiting for a turn. If/when Ella willingly hands over the pony to Nancy, then Ella experiences true generosity. This is a positive and warm feeling that she may want to repeat in the future.
3. Nancy is probably not going to be happy about having to wait for the pony. However, learning to wait is a life skill that all children need to acquire. If Nancy feels frustrated, sad, or angry for a time, it is fine. Tears or some foot stomping are appropriate ways to express her feelings. Controlling behavior and expressing intense feelings appropriately are the main tasks of 2-5 year old children. The more practice they get, the better.
As a parent, you can help both kids through their learning by saying:
Examples of positive assertiveness:
-Did you like when she grabbed your pony? Tell her to stop.
-Say: "I am not done. You can have it when I am done."
-She can have a turn. When she is all done, she can have a turn.
Examples of waiting and awareness of others:
-You are so mad. You really want to play with the pony right now.
-You can be mad, but I will not let you take the pony.
-Ella, I see you are not using the pony anymore. Go find Nancy. Remember, she is waiting for a turn.
Teaching children to take turns when they are done and teaching children to wait for their turn to have what they want may seem insurmountable. However, with patience, consistency, and practice, children do learn those skills that are indeed life skills. Finally, you may wonder how to handle children who do take really looong turns. Stay tuned to find out what to do in my next post.
As a parent and a therapist, I want to offer some tips on how to raise happy and healthy kids. Please feel free to comment on my posts.