The three T’s of communication: Taking turns with your child

How taking turns can help your young child build strong communication skills.

Taking turns is an important part of communication development for young children.
Taking turns is an important part of communication development for young children.

Communication is a necessary part of life. From making friends, getting and keeping a job, and even buying an ice cream cone, people need to be able to communicate with others. So how can parents help develop these important communication skills?

In the book “Thirty Million Words: Building a Child’s Brain,” Dana Suskind, Beth Suskind and Leslie Lewinter-Suskind talk about ways parents and adults can help children develop the crucial and incredibly important skill of communication. They identified the three T’s of communication: tune in, talk more, and take turns. This article will focus on the third “T,” take turns.

Take turns

Taking turns is an important part of communication development for young children. When children learn to take turns, they learn the basic rhythm of communication, that back-and-forth exchange between people. They also learn about taking turns and communication through serve and return interactions. Think of it like a game of tennis, your child serves the ball by looking at you and babbling, and you return the ball by looking at and talking to your child. When children are actively engaged with adults and practice taking turns, they learn the foundation for conversational exchanges.

Michigan State University Extension has some tips for taking turns with your child.

  • Be responsive. Children communicate their needs in a variety of ways. Infants cry to get their needs met, toddlers might pull you towards the kitchen when they are hungry, and older children might tell you with words what they need. By being responsive to your child’s needs, you are doing several things. First, you are doing the most important part of being a parent, taking care of them! They feel safe, secure and loved when you are responsive to their needs. In regards to communication skills, being responsive helps children learn the value of communicating with others. Just like adults need to figure out how to communicate with their boss about taking vacation time, children need to learn how to navigate the world through communication.
  • Keep things open-ended. Asking “what” or “yes or no” questions often limit the responses a child will have. These questions do not work on expanding your child’s vocabulary or help them improve their conversational skills because you’re expecting the child to repeat words they already know. Try asking open-ended questions, like “how” or “why.” These questions allow children to express themselves using different words or thoughts.
  • Play other turn-taking games. Whether it is simply rolling a ball back and forth or playing a rousing game of Candyland, games that involve taking turns help build strong foundational skills for language and communication. Challenge your child to practice taking turns. You could play “I spy” and encourage your child to find multiple ways to describe what they see, or make up stories together, taking turns to describe what happens next.

For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.

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