Now the Babies (a discussion about sign language)

Speaking of Sign Language, I am a big cheerleader for anybody who wants to sign with their baby.

I think teaching a child to sign “please” (flat hand circling on the chest) substantially reduces the amount of whining pre-verbal babies engage in.

My belief is that the majority of whining from older babies is the result of frustration.

The child knows what she wants, but has no way to ask for it.

My WFMW tip this week is to depart from “Sign with your Baby” curricula at two points.

  1. Teach your child “please” instead of “more.” They function the same way for the child, but “please” introduces that important word sooner, and in my experience is better for the grown-ups’ sensibilities.
  2. Make a special effort to help the child absorb “please” for an automatic response. Set up situations and move the child’s hand yourself while you show him how you want the sign used.

This differs from the way you’re “supposed” to teach signs.

Garcia (the author of one baby signing book) insists that one should allow the signs to develop naturally– as spoken words do– by the child mimicking the adult in his or her own time.

In my experience (maybe I’ve just never waited long enough) I’ve never seen a child take up using a spoken please without coaching and prompting from the parent, so I see no inconsistency in “making” a child sign “please.”

When I was 18 I “trained” my 9-month-old niece in about 15-minutes with a bowl of fruit loops.

I would not make the same decision today as a mother ;o)

It was very Pavlovian, I admit, but the reduction in whining and the sweetness that developed along with her ready and eager “please” convinced me she was improved rather than scarred by it.

As a side-note she did eventually learn “more” somewhere, and there was a real distinction in attitude for how they were used, confirming for me the desirability of “please” as a substitute, in the beginning especially.

This entry was posted in Advice.

13 thoughts on “Now the Babies (a discussion about sign language)

  1. I think please was one of the signs my first son learned the easiest, and now he’s 2.5yrs old and still signs it when saying it and is very polite with please and thank you :) Even just a few signs helps cut down on frustration.

  2. Absolutely!

    My niece only learned a few (please, more, love-you) but they made all the difference in the world.

    In contrast my oldest “conversed” with 70-75 by the time she was interested in talking (between 2 and 3) but most of those were so specialized (colors, animals) that they weren’t about needs or defusing frustration anymore.

    ASL (American Sign Language) was my second language in college, so I am very comfortable with signing with my children.

  3. Well, the bowl of fruit loops was one–
    My niece was sitting on the table, and crawled over to me to beg.

    I’m only occasionally melted by “cute” (when I am it surprises me), so rather than just give her some soggy green sugar for nothing, I picked up her little arm and circled her open hand on her chest.

    While I did that I prompted variations on “Say please.” in a cheerful voice.

    A while of pat/yum and the connection was established.

    I stopped moving her hand but continued with the verbal cue (when do parents ever drop that…?) and she started immediately to pat her chest in her adorable baby-version of please.


    So that’s the sort of situation I’d set up:
    A pile (or dish) of something baby really wants but has to ask for, then become Pavlov.

  4. For the record, the youngest age I’ve seen this work is maybe 8 months.

    A good gauge (in my mind) for whether your baby is ready to learn signs:

    Is s/he waving “bye-bye”?
    This indicates the child has made a connection between a ritual/event (leaving) and a symbol (waving).

    At its most basic, this is language.

  5. My oldest son is about to be 8. We signed with him and he was a natural. He was also an early talker and the changeover seemed seamless. To this very day when he is hoping hard for something he will unconsciously sign please even as he uses the words to tell me what he is wanting. It’s usually for things he thinks I am not very likely to give him (like another cookie) and usually it makes me want to give it to him, because it reminds me of his baby-self from long, long ago.

  6. Oh yes, you don’t need an actual curriculum.

    I just highlighted Garcia’s stuff because I’ve met him, and heard him talk about his book, so it’s the only resource I know anything about, personally.

    When he learned I was a 3rd-semester ASL student he said not to bother buying his book.

    Nice guy.

    The book is good for those caregivers without a background in ASL who want more structure.

  7. Hey, I appreciate this! I’m starting to teach my 9 month old…and I really hear you on the “please” thing. I’ll try it! Thanks!

  8. That’s pretty insightful about frustration. Sounds like a good idea; that’s one I’ll have to file away for future use!

  9. Pingback: The “Elevator Pitch”: not just for books anymore : Life Untangling

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