Sunday, July 3, 2011

Talking to my baby! (sign language and how it has strengthened my relationship with my 1 year old)

SHOUT OUT TO MY SISTER ABBY: My older sister took a Sign Language class in college. She loved it and ended up taking more classes until she became fluent and was able to apply and get into Gallaudet University - a school for the hearing impaired. Eventually my sister received her Masters in Social Work from there. All of her classes were taught in Sign Language. It is amazing to watch her talk with her hands. It is definitely a talent and I am so proud of her.  Although signing a few words (more, milk, all done) is pretty trendy and common now adays, it was my sister who first got me interested years before I even had a child!  Thanks Bert!

Children's understanding of language occurs way before their vocal chords do. They are not only able to comprehend things said to them and around them but they also have the ability and desire to communicate back with people. They just often don't have the tools. This is often why toddlers have meltdowns and scream and cry often. How terribly frustrating to want something, know what it is you want, but not be able to communicate your desire to the grown up in your presence.

(Here Hartly is doing his sign for "apple". Often when babies are little their fine motor skills are limited so they have their own versions that may not be exact but are close to the true sign that is modeled for them. The adult should continue to reinforce the correct sign and over time the child's version will grow and change to become, eventually, more precise. Just like a child doesn't say "bottle" the first time but starts off saying, "ba ba")
Hartly asking for an apple!
Hart got his apple!

We started out signing to him LONG before he was able to model back. Just like you don't wait until a child is a year and a half before you start talking to them, the same is true for signing. Children are capable of so much. There is often just a long delay because a lot of processing and work is going on. Hart was 9 months when he gave us his 1st sign. He did the sign for "fan". It was awesome. Anytime we walked into a room with a fan he would sign it. If you said "fan", he would sign it. If you pointed to a fan, he would sign it. From there the desire to "talk"/sign was very obvious. And it s fun. Most importantly, it is so fun to "talk" with your baby!

Hart is just 12 1/2 months now. He signs: clap, fan, light, chandelier, more, milk, food/eat, water, up, potty, flower, tree, book, apple, bird, ball, bath, wind, dog, agua, bike, dance, please, wind, balloon and is working on boat.

(We were on a ride at the fair and Hart kept signing his version of "more" over and over. As he has gotten older he is now able to pinch his fingers together to do the proper sign)

It is crazy how much he is taking in and understanding. It is such a joy to be able to witness. I wouldn't be able to know half of what is going on with him if we didn't have this connection (that any parent can have with their child if that is what they want). We will be at a store and he will start slapping his thigh and snapping his fingers - the sign for "dog" (and yes, crazy but true, he started snapping his fingers at 10 months because we modeled the sign for dog for him)and I will say, "Hart, there is no doggy here. What are you doing signing dog?" He will insist, slapping harder and snapping louder and then I will follow his eyes to a poster that happens to have a dog in the corner of it... or a kid's t-shirt with snoopy on it. The same is true for flower and tree and bird and ball... He spots them long before I do. There have even been incidents where my husband and I were talking to each other, not even realizing Hart was listening, and if we utter one of the words that he knows how to sign he is doing it. Once we were on the kayak and Frank said, "be careful of the waves" and Hart started waving.

(This was early morning and Hart is letting us know he wants to eat/food)

But the very best thing that has come out of all of this occured about a month ago. Little Man was going through a rough patch with his teething. He was just not his usually self and his hand was in his mouth pressing up on his gums one morning with silent tears rolling down his face. Our boy rarely cries so this was a rare and such a sad sight to see. I tried giving him teething toys and every trick I knew. I even put baby homeremedy medicine on his gum but he was not feeling any better. I finally, in desperation more than actually expecting and answer, said, "Hart, what do you need? What will make you feel better?" Without missing a beat, he signed, "bath!"
upset and in midst of signing "bath"

It was not our usually bath time but who am I to argue with a sad baby in pain asking for a bath. I didn't know if it would help but I decided to try. As I started filling the tub he become more frantic, madly signing "bath" over and over as his quiet tears now became sobs.

I hurried up and we climbed in. His sobs started to subside. He snuggled close to me and sunk low in the warm water. Minutes later he was smiling again.

It was amazing!

As I was sitting in the tub with my sweet teething baby a conversation with his pediatrician (Dr. Razi - she is the BEST!) came rushing back to me!! At around 6 months when Hart got his first (and so far only) fever and was crying nonstop, I (new mother here) called his Doctor in a panic, wondering if I needed to bring him to see her. She told me a bunch of different things to do for him. She said, if those didn't work, to climb into the tub with him. She said that it helps with aches and pains and can soothe a miserable baby. I only now, as we sat in the bath, was reminded of this conversation. How Hartly knew that this is what he needed to help make him feel better, I will never know.

What I do know is this: Without sign language I don't know how long he would have been in pain and sad and crying. He was able to communicate his needs to me - a need that had not even crossed my mind as helping his teething. This alone makes me grateful we sign. But, as I stated before, on a daily bases I communicate and talk with my son and we all three (husband is definitely on board too) have so much fun and joy talking together!!

P.S.  Hart also 'goes' in a potty (check out my February post).  His signing comes in VERY helpful for that (its not perfect - he is by no means diaper free yet... but I can't remember the last BM diaper I had to clean, which is super awesome!)

On an early morning stand boarding trip Hart did our sign (actually "hat") for potty!  We always have a potty close by, so it saved us a dirty diaper! :)

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