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Communicate without Words

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Sometimes your baby or toddler may cry bitterly, or even get enraged and have a temper tantrum, and you have no idea what is wrong… and he or she is unable to tell you – which is often part of the problem!

In recent years there has been growing awareness that signing could be an answer to this problem. There are many child-behaviour experts who believe that signing can reduce frustration and distress in little ones by giving them a way of communicating before they can actually talk – using hand gestures.

If you ‘tune in’ to your baby, you may already spot looks or gestures that are ‘asking’ for your attention, and that you can respond to. Opening and closing of the mouth could be obvious – ‘I’m hungry’! A determined stare may be a request for your attention. In a toddler, pointing or stabbing a finger at an object or picture is usually a request for that item! A grandmother tells how she observed a clear, untaught example of wordless communication by her 9-month-old granddaughter when travelling in the back seat of the family car with the child. To entertain the baby, grandma had been singing a song about fish, then she had given baby a board book to look at. After a while, grandma became aware of the child looking determinedly at her, and when grandma turned in her direction, the child began stabbing her finger, first to a picture of some fish in the book and then to her own chin – repeating this sequence over and over, while looking hard at grandma. Finally, grandma understood the ‘sign’… “Sing the fish song again, grandma”!

Some believe that baby signing can boost baby’s confidence and strengthen the bond between parent and child. When you speak to your child, instead of just saying the word you can give him, or her, a visual clue by signing the word as well as saying it. It is believed that baby can start to understand signing – and begin to respond – from as early as six months of age.

In the UK, an excellent and popular program for young children – and for those with special needs – uses signing throughout the program. Some parents have realised that their toddler has picked up a few signs completely naturally without having the word in their vocabulary, if indeed they are actually talking at all yet. There are classes available for parents to learn the technique, and some nurseries now use baby signing. It is also thought to be helpful for children who are learning more than one language – the sign is the same in any language:

“Eat”… pinch your thumb and forefinger together and move them towards your mouth.

“Read a story”… put your open hands together, fingers apart, palms up.

Simple… but so useful!

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