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It has finally happened—your toddler is throwing tantrums and refusing to share with his friends and siblings. Though you chalk it up to the terrible twos or threes, it's not too early to teach him the importance of give-and-take.
"It is essential to teach children how to take turns, because it's a skill they will use for the rest of their lives and in every relationship they share with another person," says Christina Steinorth, a California-based psychotherapist and author of Cue Cards for Life. "From the school yard to dating to marriage to the workplace, the concept of give-and-take is a key factor in forming healthy relationships with others."
Make this lesson fun and insightful for your toddler by including games in your daily playtime that teach the fine art of taking turns.
One of the simplest ways you can begin to teach your toddler the concept of taking turns and sharing is with a game of peek-a-boo, says Steinorth. Sit with your toddler, cover your eyes, uncover them and say "Peek-a-boo." When your child giggles, smile and laugh with your child and encourage him to take the next turn. Continue to alternate.
"Peek-a-boo teaches your child to share through an interactive game—you make an action, your child responds and you respond back with positive reinforcement," says Steinorth. "It's a very early concept of give-and-take between two people."
Although your toddler may not fully understand the value of taking turns and sharing, incorporating these lessons into play can effectively model the behavior. Parents can begin by teaching this skill through daily play with card games.
Matching games, in particular, provide this opportunity. Place all of the cards upside-down on a table and take turns with your toddler trying to find matches. She may be anxious or resistant to wait her turn but if you explain that this is how the game works, she will soon learn that the anticipation is just as fun as the game. Positive reinforcement during and after the game will help instill the need for respectful sharing.
"When you see your toddler responding to you appropriately, be sure to provide positive reinforcement with a smile or clapping," says Steinorth. "It will help reinforce her good behavior."
Your kitchen timer is useful for more than just signaling that dinner is ready. Incorporate a timed game with your toddler to model how to take turns. For instance, ask him to get his favorite toy when playing with a friend. Then, set the timer for a few minutes and allow your child to play with it. When the timer rings, explain that his friend gets a chance now to play with the toy. If he is resistant, remind him that when the timer rings again, it will then be his turn.
"When we teach children the concept of taking turns, we're teaching them how to share and how to let others come first," says Steinorth. "In addition, it teaches children not to be selfish or greedy and that there's enough for everyone."
A simple session of building blocks will help ignite your toddler's creativity and her ability to take turns. Take turns stacking blocks and talk while you are doing it. Phrases such as "OK, it's your turn" and "OK, it's my turn" help your toddler see how teamwork can produce creative and even tall results.
Being a role model "playmate" for your tot is more than fun and games, providing an opportunity for your toddler to see the benefit of sharing and taking turns with his friends and siblings.
"Stacking blocks teaches sharing and also introduces the concept that sometimes activities are more fun when we share them with others," says Steinorth.