Taking Turns – an emotional intelligence

Let’s talk about taking turns! Taking turns requires a certain amount of  emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence refers to the ability to recognise and understand one’s own emotions and those of others.  Taking turns takes a great deal of practice and mastery, even as adults we can find ourselves interrupting when someone else is talking. As adults we can find it hard to wait our turn if we feel we have something important to say.  So modelling and teaching turn-taking whilst talking will really support children develop this crucial skill.

Research has shown that learning the skill of turn-taking in the first three years of life has been linked to higher intelligence levels later on.  It has been linked to increased emotional regulation, attachment, and emotional communication, and to cortical growth in language and social processing regions of the brain .

According to the latest research, the more children participate in turn-taking during a conversation without interruption with their caregivers, the more active their brain is in responding to language production and processing .

Turn-taking can teach children many things, such as hearing new words that they may use on their own when it’s time to take their turn. They learn to pay attention to what someone else is saying, how to initiate an interaction, how and when to take a turn. They learn how to clarify or repeat what they were trying to say if it was not understood, how to ask questions, how to use previous knowledge, experience, and problem-solving skills to express their point of view .

This is good for children’s social skills, and also their brain. According to research, turn-taking is strongly linked with the strength of white matter connections between two key language regions (Broca’s and Wernicke’s) in the brain . Conversational turn-taking is also linked to the increased surface area of the left Perisylvian cortex, an area of the brain associated with language comprehension and reading skills .

So how do we foster and develop this social skill which will support us through life?  Dramatic play can be the champion of growing this skill.

Role Reversal: As they step into different roles, children learn to appreciate the give-and-take in everyday interactions, just like in our world.

Communication Skills: It’s all about talking and listening! Dramatic play encourages kids to express themselves, listen to others, and patiently wait their turn to shine.

Empathy Building: Taking turns and sharing in the world of make-believe fosters empathy. Our tamariki understand the value of waiting and respecting others’ feelings.

Problem-Solving Playground: When “drama” happens, children learn to resolve conflicts, negotiate, and find creative solutions together.

As teachers, parents and caregivers, we can help children learn to take turns in conversations: 

  • pause for one or two seconds after a child talks and look directly at them, indicating it’s their turn to say something. Around five seconds should be long enough. If you’re still waiting, the child can be encouraged to take their turn to speak with a touch, a question, or a comment.
  • Encourage children to take their turn by getting face-to-face with them. Pay close attention to what the child is interested in, including eye gaze, gestures, facial expressions, and sounds, which are all clues to when they’ll be ready to take their turn.
  • Be patient and wait to give the child a chance to send you a message. Remember that they don’t need to use words – they might just give you a quick look or make a gesture. Treat any sound, look, or gesture as your child’s first “turn” in the interaction.