I remember the first time my baby became emotional about me going to work. A real tear-jerker! Well not totally, it’s not like I was leaving him with a stranger or anything, it was just one of those days when I was off to work, but my wife had the day off. More about this later.
When we first did the switcheroo when our baby was about 10 months old except the other way around and Courtney left for work the first time and I stayed home we planned to do it without him noticing. Courtney just left quietly down the stairs without making a big deal about things and our son was no worse for the wear. In fact, it was impossible to measure any difference in him at all during the day – it’s like he hadn’t noticed and the daily routine proceeded without hiccup. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve always both been around for the most part and he assumed nothing really had changed, our technique was so good and discrete such that we’d executed the switch perfectly, or that he’s just got an easy going personality. Hard to say really without jumping inside his mind.
But as time progressed, there were more and more hints of emotions creeping in – he had been pretty easy going up until then. This wasn’t the limit though to just emotions, his demands also ramp up a touch too. He learned about what he wanted and began to show resistance where he would have gladly followed along before. By this time, he had a pretty solid sign vocabulary and we used this to our advantage. We used signs like ALL DONE to warn him about getting that last piece of fruit, cereal, raisin, date or whatever he wanted at the moment. We’d say “Okay, one more piece and then ALL DONE.” Begin careful to do the sign. After a while he would finish the sentence, that meant he understood what was coming. Babies really hate surprises and signs help parents eliminate them and prepare baby for what’s to come – even if it’s bad news.
There are many ways to manage a baby’s emotions and prepare them for what’s to come. Doing the sign for SLEEP can prepare a baby to sleep in a new environment when visiting relatives. Practicing facial expressions can put a baby in touch with the various emotions. My son and I practice the ANGRY face often! Whining is another big issue with young toddlers so you need skills to quell this too. I like to sign WAIT while I prepare a meal and also PLAY so he goes and busy’s himself doing something more productive than pulling on my pant legs!
This is a very round-a-bout way to say that signs helped my son deal with his first emotional bout when I was about to leave – as it has in many other situations. As usual I change into my work clothes just before leaving – he learned to recognize this as a cue. I’d always say “bye-bye” and do the sign for WORK to let him know I was off. Then blow him a kiss, or wave to him, and leave down the stairs. However, this day was different, as I put my shirt on, this was his cue, he ran up to me and grabbed my legs and cried out “No-no-no-no!” He had never done this before, but throughout the week we both noticed that he was getting more demanding and showing stronger interest in going to do certain things (like taking off down the sidewalk!). I gave him a big hug and told him that I had to go to WORK and made him copy the sign so I knew he understood.
The sign carries a lot of meaning, and by doing the sign each time I left I think he knew that I’d only be gone temporarily. Up until then, it wasn’t emotional, it was just something I had done. However, had we not established this routine and not anchored the sign in his mind, he might have thought my absence was more permanent making everything more stressful to all of us. It’s hard to say what our lives would be like had we not signed, I suppose we still would have had the same routines and paid the same attention to our son, but I don’t think we would have been able to manage and care for him as readily. Signs are an excellent way to attach extended meaning preparing a baby for things that are to come.