Saturday, February 25, 2012

Signing Saturday

Imagine this situation:

Your 11 month old little boy approaches you crying, clearly distraught about something. You ask, "What is wrong sweetie?" and he brings his hands up to his chin making the sign for "blanket." You give your child their favorite blanket to snuggle and he is immediately comforted. You feel great that your child was quickly comforted and had his need met.

Now, imagine this:

Your 18 month old little girl begins to fuss and throw a tantrum in the middle of your living room floor. You feel as though it came out of no where and have little idea of what it is about. You ask your child, "What is wrong?" but, you get more crying. The only difference in this situation is that your child has not learned how to sign her needs and wants. She continues to tantrum, about something that you can't put your finger on. You are frustrated, and so is she. All she wanted was for you to help her find her favorite stuffed animal. Unfortunately, you aren't sure how to help her and instead, tell her, "Stop crying and big a big girl!" Her needs during that moment went unmet.

Obviously, there will be times in our child's life regardless of signing ability that we are not able to meet their needs, or are able to meet their needs with a little bit of creative thinking. Wouldn't it be nice, though, to avoid some of the uncomfortable situations that a lack of language and voice create for young children? The good news is that we CAN help to give them a clear voice. No matter how old your baby or toddler is when you begin, teaching your child sign language is invaluable.

Some simple signs like; "more," "finished," "eat," and "drink," can really help to diffuse and resolve many frustrating situations for you and your child. You don't need to have an extensive understanding of sign language to begin to sign with your child. Actually, it can be fun to learn new signs right along WITH you child. There are MANY difference resources that are already out there to help you both learn to sign. Books, DVD's, classes, and toys, are just a few of them.

Here are a few signs to help you get started!





(This is not me in the videos. Just a signing mom that I admire.)

The best time to introduce a new sign to your child is when they are in a good mood, and try to introduce the sign in the context that it will be used. For an example; If you want to teach your child to sign, "more" try teaching them the signing while eating.

Step 1.) Give them a piece of food and after they have finished eating it ask, "Do you want more?" while signing more.

Step 2.) Then say, "Sign more!" while signing it again.

Step 3.) Tell your child, "This is how you sign more." Gently take your child's hands and help them make the sign.

Step 4.) Tell your child again, "Sign more!" while signing it again.

Step 5.) Give them a moment to try the sign, or move on if they don't show any interest.

You may have to continue to model the sign for the child many times before they will sign it back to you. Do not become frustrated if they do not sign it back to you at first. Depending upon the age of the child, you may have to sign something new for a few weeks before they attempt it themselves. Of course, if your child signs something, give them lots of praise! even if the sign is not perfect (and it probably wont be). If your child seems frustrated, move on to something else. You want your child to associate using sign language as a positive way to communicate, not as something that is being forced.

I began signing with the Stink Bug when she was somewhere around 6 months old. I expected that she would pick it up quickly, and was disheartened when she didn't. I stuck with it anyways (even though I felt silly signing to her repeatedly without any response). It really was quite a while before she began to signing anything back. If I remember correctly, it was about a month or so. Once she began signing, though, she seemed as though she had just spent that time soaking up what I had been signing, and was finally confident enough to try on her own.

My suggestion is to start with the basics, a few signs at a time, and work up from there. You might find that ten or twenty signs are all that you want to teach your child. That is fine. No one says that you have to have a child who can sign EVERYTHING. The idea is to help their communication with you and to avoid situations that might be difficult. My guess is that once you get started, and start to see your child signing, you wont stop at just a few though!

If you continue to sign with your child regularly, there is no reason why your child couldn't sign 100 or more signs before they turn two. Who wouldn't want to have a two year old who can tell you if they are sick, thank you, or I love you far before they can say it?

Concerned that teaching your child to sign will limit their speech and language development? Well, I am happy to report that that is NOT the case. Teaching sign language to children does promote language development. You can check out a great article here that has links to some good studies that have been done on communication and language.

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