Family Game Night: Teaching Toddlers to Take Turns

Two little girls playing board game with mom lying on their tummies

Whether it’s at the grocery store, waiting in line for movie tickets or holding the door open for a friendly face at the neighborhood coffee shop - taking turns is part of our daily adult lives. For a toddler who is developing and learning on the move, taking turns can be frustrating. Waiting for their turn to play, turning objects into “mine,” or wanting to go “first” can add up to some difficult moments to navigate.  

In a general context, turn taking is a simple, back and forth communicative exchange in interactions with friends or others. Taking turns centered around a certain activity with your toddler can help them develop this skill.

Taking turns is a wonderful way to build character, empathize with the group, negotiate and be patient. These are skills that will serve your child well as they grow.

Family Game Night and the Art of Taking Turns

Two lilttle boys in pink and blue t-shirt playing board game on a table

Playing board or card games that require taking turns teaches toddlers to wait patiently until it’s their chance to take the lead. But the first time your child is met with this concept - don’t be surprised if big emotions take over - this is normal!

As a first step to learning this skill Guess in 10 Junior Animal Kingdom meets a young child where they’re at developmentally. The cards do not require reading, so a child can independently play. In addition, turns are quick so a child won’t be left waiting for long gaps of time.

Families who are struggling with the concept of turns often find a visual reminder can help during family game night. Maybe you have a soft ball or bright colored Post It you pass to the person whose turn it is. This will be a reminder to everyone in the family to let that person have their moment.

Building the Concept of Turns into Daily Routines

two kids playing Feed The Crocs by Skillmatics

There are plenty of moments throughout your day where you can reinforce the concept of taking turns. For example, while cooking you can invite your child to help, and take turns adding the ingredients to a bowl. Or during playtime create a game of stacking blocks as you take turns with your toddler to create a tall tower. The playground is another spot where they can get experience taking turns with peers, as they anxiously await their chance to go down the slide or use a swing.

You can create more activities around waiting to help your toddler learn restraint. Being comfortable with waiting makes them more capable of learning self-control. If you’re at an ice cream store, you can talk to your toddler about having to wait their turn to get the treat while showing patience and gratitude. Use positive language to encourage your little one and show some compassion to validate their feelings, “Waiting can be hard for me too! We’re doing it! High five!” This modeled behavior can help your child learn to take turns in a safe space.

Embracing the Concept of Taking Turns

two girls playing Memory Match by Skillmatics on a table

As children are born not knowing how to take turns, you have to teach this important life skill. Even though it is a hard skill to learn, gradually with time, encouragement, and help, your toddler can enjoy giving others a turn.

Having your support and positive encouragement when taking turns can help them listen to others, learn to problem-solve, practice self-control, and communicate with patience. These invaluable skills that you teach your little one can help them develop socially and emotionally into their growing years.