My Toddler Learned Baby Signing And Now She’s The Boss

mom daughter heart sign language

My daughter wakes up. It’s early. She looks at me, smiles, and moves her arms in the breaststroke motion. She wants to go swimming. Again. And she’s telling me in sign language. After breakfast, she asks to go swimming. In the car seat on the way to the store, she asks to go swimming. While she’s eating her snack, she asks to go swimming. Finally, we go swimming.

When she was an infant, I took her to baby signing classes for the songs, the company, and because I thought signing would help her communicate her needs. She attended classes for about nine months without signing very much, other than the occasional ”milk,” where she’d open and close her hands once in a while when she felt like nursing. The other sign she adopted early was ”music,” her index fingers pointing upwards in the air and rotating a bit, and she used this sign to ask us to turn the music on frequently (this is the British sign; the American one is slightly different). I thought her baby signs might be limited to those two when I moved away from the group. But two months ago, in a new town without a baby-signing group in sight, everything changed.

She started banging on my chest when she wanted to nurse. This became uncomfortable for me and awkward at social gatherings. Something had to change. Each time she tried to hit my chest, I caught her arms and made the milk sign, saying, ”Do you want milk? Make the sign!” I didn’t withhold milk if she didn’t make the sign, but most often, she’d open and close her fists and then I’d let her nurse. Within a week, the sign had completely replaced the chest-hitting, in a big way: it seemed that whenever I turned around, there she was, opening and closing her hands. It was great to see her frustration evaporate when she could tell me what she wanted. I reinforced her communicative efforts, nursing her on demand.

Maybe the relief of communicating her needs served as the gateway to making other signs, or maybe she’d just reached a developmental moment in which signing made more sense to her. She’d been saying words starting around nine months: mama, poppy, tickle, hello, bye-bye. Signing milk and music had come around ten months. But now, at fourteen months, her sign language exploded””she started signing a lot, and often: sleepfoodmoreall doneshoesdiaper change, and of course her new favorite: swimming. Her father and I were delighted. ”She wants to go swimming!” we said. ”That’s so adorable!” There are few things as cute as a tiny toddler staring up at you imploringly as she makes air-swimming motions.

All of these words, you might notice, communicate desire ”” ”I want to nurse! I want to go swimming!” ”” but they could also be interpreted as commands: ”Nurse me! Take me swimming! Turn on the music! Let’s get this party started!” And we did. It was as though our toddler had undergone a magisterial directorial debut, with us as her stooges. She pointed her fingers up in the air. We turned on the music. She brought her fingers to her mouth. We scrambled to give her something to eat. She brought her closed fists together. We changed her diaper. She made the breaststroke motion with her arms. We gathered the towels, swimsuits, swim toys, and snacks and headed for the pool. She tilted her head to the side, laying her cheek on the back of her hand. We took her to bed. Then, we fell asleep ourselves, resting up for the next day’s flood of signs.

We were exhausted but elated. Our daughter was less frustrated and so proud of herself for being able to communicate her needs. Some researchers have suggested that sign language might increase a child’s rate of verbal development or the size of a child’s vocabulary, though the jury’s still out about these claims. At the very least, baby signing might give a child the ability to communicate effectively through signs months before he or she would be able to communicate in words, which decreases child frustration and increases the bond between child and parents. It does feel good to know what my daughter needs, even if sometimes it’s still a bit of a guessing game: More avocado? More cheese? More peas? More”¦music?

Sometimes, we have to guess at what sign she’s making. That crooked hand pointing away from her armpit? We finally realized she was asking to take a bath. Those two index fingers pressed together? She wants to play with friends! That movement of her right hand that looks like she’s waving bye-bye? She wants a drink! And the newest adventure””two fingers pointing down, accompanied by a ”woof-woof” that sounds a little bit like Hannibal Lector’s air through the teeth””she really wants to pet that dog. We rush outside and accost the dog’s owner. She pets the dog. Then, her hand sweeps across her face like whiskers, accompanied by a ”meow” and a longing look through the neighbors’ patio window at their lounging cat. As we move away from the patio window, her thumb and index finger open and close, her little fingers pointing up at the sky””oh yes, she sees that bird on the roof. I tune in. ”Yes, that’s a bird,” I say. My daughter smiles at me and then looks back at the bird. We admire the bird together.

Similar Posts