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Let's face it, it's tough for a young child to take turns, since it often involves surrendering something she's having fun with. However these skills are vital to learning how to be a good friend. You can't expect kids to take turns before age 2, but you can lay the groundwork by injecting the concept into their play. For instance, take turns stacking blocks. As your child matures, continue to demonstrate turn-taking by playing card and board games. When a playdate is scheduled, be sure to review the etiquette beforehand. Say something like, "Kara may want to play with your dollhouse and when friends play together, it's nice to take turns." Should a conflict come up, ask both children to explain what the problem is and come up with some suggestions for solving it. Praise their problem-solving ability.
It's also a good idea to allow a few things to be sacred; it's too much to expect a young child to share her most prized possessions. Instead, before a playdate allow your child to put a few things that are too hard to share in your bedroom. Taking turns and sharing often become easier when a child has a feeling of control over what's happening to her things. If your child refuses to take turns with a certain toy, remind her how much she enjoys playing with her friend's toys when you visit. Although it's tempting, don't just yank the toy away and hand it to the other child (this actually discourages generosity by making your kid even more protective of her stuff). Instead get out your kitchen timer and set it for three minutes. When the buzzer rings, it's time to switch. If your child still refuses then remove the toy from the room and say, "I know it's hard to take turns, but we don't want your guest to feel bad." Most importantly, praise your child when she does share successfully. --Christiane Lavin
Copyright 2004. Reprinted with permission from the May 2004 issue of Child magazine. Updated 2009
The answers from our experts are for educational purposes only. Please always refer to your child's pediatrician and mental health expert for more in-depth advice.