Long turns should be a respected part of child-directed turn-taking.
Turn-taking based on when the child decides she’s “All Done” is fair and simple (see previous post Sharing: Throw Away Your Timer). But what happens when a child hogs the ball or decides to take a really looonnnnngggg turn?
When you put your child in charge of deciding when she’s all done, her turn might be five seconds, or it might be five hours. Time doesn’t mean much to a young child. Finishing what she’s involved in is what counts.
Long turns are not selfish, anti-social or unkind. This idea may take some getting used to, if you’re an adult. Long turns are OK. In fact, long turns should be respected just as much as short ones.
A child takes a long turn to get a need met. It may be a need for motion (a swing), a need for trust, a need for control, or simply a need to explore an intense interest.
Kids typically take long turns if they’re new at child-directed turn-taking. Why? They hog a toy to test the system. It’s a matter of building trust. ”Will dad really let me have the pony until I’m all done?” When they feel safe, they relax. Kids who have been forced to share in the past may take very long turns, but after they trust the system they begin to relax. The turns get shorter.
Some kids have a need for control. Hanging on to one object and controlling can be a way to feel safe. Address the underlying fear. Or give the child other opportunities to experience power and control in their lives (carrying a heavy object, being in charge of something).
Sometimes kids take long turns to practice a new skill or follow an intense interest. It develops focus and attention span. All the repetition may be boring to us (swinging and swinging, or pouring and pouring sand), but it’s exciting to them and these kids are working at an optimal level of learning.
How long is too long? What about waiting for the long turn to be done?
There is no real limit to how long a turn can be. Trust that at some point, the child will be “All Done.” Some schools make signs that save the object for the next day. ”Work in Progress.” or “Saving for Sammy.” If lunch interrupts the play, the turn can continue after lunch.
A magic tool for long turns – the Waiting List.
In a group situation, such as a preschool, home daycare or large family, use the magic tool of the Waiting List. This works well for popular, but limited, items such as swings. Simply write the names of waiting kids. Kids learn sequence and pre-literacy skills as they look for their names on the list. Soon you’ll have children “writing” their names on their own waiting lists. It may look like scribbles, but they’ll know exactly whose turn is next.
Counterintuitively, long turns offer another way for children to gain social skills and awareness of others. If a child’s been waiting a long time, it’s OK for him to be mad or frustrated and tell the other child how he feels. This helps kids who take long turns learn that their actions impact others. Meanwhile, the waiting child is learning delayed gratification and how to cope with negative emotions – vital life skills.
Finally, rules may be different for crowded, public areas. Some items are for everyone. Long turns don’t work everywhere. If you’re at a crowded children’s museum, tell your kids the rules are different there. Then make room for long turns when you can.
Words you can say
Protecting long turns
- It’s OK to have a long turn.
- Yes, she’s having a long turn. When it’s your turn, you can have a long turn, too.
- Zoe doesn’t have to give it to you, but you can tell her how you feel.
- Tell her you’re tired of waiting! You can say you’ve been waiting all morning and it makes you mad.
- Let’s make a waiting list.
- Look – you’re next after Danny. Your name is right here at the top.
Sharing crowded or public space
- The climber is for everyone.
- There are lots of other kids here. Today we need to take fast turns.
- At home you can take a long turn. At the museum it’s different.
- Your turn’s done. If you want to do more, you need to line up and wait for another turn.
Learn more about handling long turns in It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids. Sharing and long turns are just two of the 29 “renegade rules.” Or watch this short video.
How do you handle long turns? Do you ever use a waiting list? What makes you uneasy about letting kids have long turns?