Signing for the benefit of your baby is useless if you can’t capture your baby’s attention! You’ve probably read or intuitively realize that in order to sign properly you should get down to your baby’s “level.” That is, you should crouch down, sit on the floor, or bring your baby up to your level by sitting your baby on the couch or signing to them in a highchair, but there’s more to signing than just fixing levels.
Signing requires that your baby looks at you and makes eye contact. Many parents will find this difficult, but not necessarily at first. With time, your toddler will get busier and more distracted so it’s important to develop good early communication patterns. To do this, you will obviously first just call out your baby’s name. At first, this should be enough. You can also use movement and props to get a very young baby’s attention. Next, stay animated while you talk to maintain attention. If calling your baby’s name doesn’t work, you’re going to use touch. Researchers noted early on that deaf mothers would use touch frequently to address their children. You should too, and not just when signing. Touch between two people can create a solid anchor and make what’s said much more powerful. Start with a light touch to the forearm or shoulder. This is usually enough to establish eye contact. Don’t be too forceful, you want to save this for later – when your toddler is acting up or is really not paying attention.
You can always try to raise your voice, but kids have a magical ability to ignore loud voices – but touch is one of those things that even adults can’t ignore. If I find I’m not being listened to, I get closer than normal and invade my son’s personal space. This makes it hard for him to ignore me. Next I actually lower my voice or even whisper. This can be very hypnotic and powerful to a baby because it happens so rarely. Next, choose your words carefully and use fewer of them. When you’re signing, step back a touch after you say something so your baby can actually see your hands. I think you’ll be surprised by how well this can actually work on babies.
Give it a try and use touch to establish and control your baby’s attention!