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Encouraging child-directed turn-taking and waiting

When I was observing the Montessori class, I was wondering why I don’t see snatching or pushing. Everyone is doing their own work peacefully, only gleeful laughters and chatters coming from the children playing outdoors. I did catch a couple of whiny complains about someone else interrupting their tasks which the teacher dealt with softly so I can’t hear the magic words she was saying.

After a few days of observing the students, it was confirmed there was no magic words involved (obviously!) .

children sitting down on the floor playing with lego blocks
Photo by cottonbro on

The children simply has developed the respect for each other, to respect one’s time and space. To respect the friend’s focus on completing the tasks. The two most beautiful things I learned from them were:

  1. to take-turns when one is fully done.
  2. to appreciate the beauty of waiting.

In this fast-moving high-tech world, we become increasingly impatient. I used to wait for a week to catch an episode of my favourite Tawainese drama every Saturday. Now, my kids just need to tap on the show they want to watch on Netflix’s and they can watch with minimal interruptions (no advertisements as well!, there is even a “skip intro” button!). The children have little opportunities to learn how to wait.

I want my children to learn generosity. I also want my children to respect themselves too. They can choose to give in when they are willing to, or complete their tasks before passing on the turn. It is not easy, I usually take the quick road of giving the “Share, please!” command, probably due to the fear of being condemned by other parents. Or maybe I feel the need to rush my kids to be society-ready.

What our children might be thinking when we demand them to share but they are not finished or not willing to:


  1. “You love him / her more than me” – Young children have own sense of justice and fairness.When expectations are different, they might feel jealous. They might feel hurt that you don’t understand why you care more about the other child.
  2. “I will never see this toy again” – the main reason why children are not willing to share is be lack of security that they will see this favourite toy again, or they will lose this lovely experience forever. Such insecurities will only increase when you force them to share. So the more often you force, the more difficult it is to get them to share.
  3. “I am not good enough” – The child may feel he is selfish or naughty because they have been instructed by you to give up something in a stern voice.
  4. “I have disappointed the people I care about” – If the child refused to share and received a scolding, they feel they have done something really bad and have upset their parents and friends.
  5. “The feelings and needs of others are more important than mine” – Do you really want your child to prioritise the feelings of others above their own? But you do know you can’t please everyone. Empathy and generosity are important, but having those values doesn’t mean giving up on one’s needs and feelings.
  6. “It’s OK to demand others to give me a turn” – Well, if your forced-sharing demand allows the other child to get toy quickly, don’t be surprise if your child will start demanding others to share and give up their turn immediately.
  7. “I’m not allowed to say no” – Do you want your child to fall into the habit of just giving in to anyone all the time? It is a real habit that will follow through adulthood. Think of the horrible consequences of not learning to say “no”.

Teaching our children child-directed turn-taking.

We can teach sharing and turn-taking through social stories, or spontaneous guidance when the situations arise.



Setting the limits

girl in white top and green dungaree trousers sitting on pillow
Photo by cottonbro on

I have certain ground rules for taking turns and sharing. These are my personal limits which you can set your own according to what you are comfortable with.

  1. I only allow them to assess to the toys and materials in the living room. Those are the materials they can use based on first-come, first-serve.
  2. I remind them to respect each other’s decision. If one sibling doesn’t want to share or allow the other to join, move on to the next activity while waiting.
  3. We need to ask permission if we want to use personal items that are clearly belong to daddy, mummy, gor gor and mei mei. (e.g. they have their own soft toys; they will ask for permission from each other before playing with it)
  4. I will tell them to allow guests to play with the toys ( I usually preempt them when guests are coming). I get them to keep the toys in the storeroom that they are not willing to let others use. I will also remind them that their friends are not going to bring the toys home unless they allow (remember they don’t share because they fear they won’t see it again).
Also read: Learning about Play (2): Stages of Play

Hogging in Public Play Areas

Implementing child-directed turn-taking and teaching other children (that are not yours) to wait can be tricky. While at home I allow my children to use a toy for as long as they want till they are done, I can’t let my child sit on the swing in a public playground for 15 minutes while ten kids are in the queue. Parenting style differs across families and we can’t expect every parent to have the same amount of understanding and tolerance.


So here are the steps I take to deal with hogging situations or when my kids are not willing to give up their turn in public play areas even after you have given them a reasonable amount of time to play with it:

  1. I let my child be aware that others are waiting by just telling what I noticed. Then I wait to see if my child responds (I want to avoid giving too much instructions and demands) E.g. “There is a boy waiting for his turn.” Verbalising your observation allows the child who is waiting to know an adult is aware and that he or she can rely on you to help get a turn. Also, you are letting the child’s parents know that you are teaching your child to share, just that your child needs more time to move on to the next activity.
  2. If my child doesn’t get the first hint. I add more details of the perspective of the child who is waiting, and also give the instruction to pass the turn soon. E.g. “The boy has been waiting for five minutes to play on the swing. Just a few more swings and we can let him have a turn. We can come back to the swing later.” (remember to let your child know he or she can return to play agin).
  3. If my child still don’t want to pass on the turn. I offer choices which is within my child’s view, usually two choices. E.g. “We’re going to give the swing a rest. You can choose to go to the slide, or play in the sandpit.”
  4. Still saying”no”? Time to redirect my child’s attention in an enthusiastic way to get him excited about something else “Hey! Let’s go find some butterflies as we walk to the station. Let’s see if we can find five different butterflies!”
  5. I tell my child his turn is up when I countdown from ten. This step can be effective but it is the last step when I can’t get my child off. It is non-negotiable and it sometimes result in tantrums.

If the hysterical crying starts, always remember that your child is NOT selfish. Your child is just not fully done with the turn yet. It is very frustrating you have to suddenly stop something that you are engrossed in. Go somewhere quiet, reconnect with your child. Acknowledge his / her feelings and reassure that your child will return to the play area to have fun again. Over time, Your child will anticipate that the turn-taking periods are shorter when there are more children, and your child will get used to the waiting too.


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