Many emotional meltdowns or tantrums begin at about nine to 30 months of age. These are commonly referred to as the “terrible twos.” However babies who are taught to sign are reported by parents to suffer far less. The terrible twos are a function of not being able to communicate conflicting and often complicated thoughts. This then leads to frustration.
Baby signing works to alleviate frustration because it’s far easier to do a sign than it is to manipulate the jaw, lips, tongue, vocal cords and lungs to produce something meaningful. This is because the larger muscles of a baby develop much sooner than the finer muscles – the ones needed to use speech.
Start working on key signs as part of your early sign language efforts even if you think your baby doesn’t need them. With time they will become very important. Signs such as PLEASE, THANK YOU, HELP, WAIT, SHARE, PLAY, ALL DONE, and ANGRY are a good place to start – even though advanced. Other signs that will help with tantrums include SLEEP, EAT, WATER, MILK, etc. as they can help a baby communicate basic needs. With time, your baby will be able to sign all these and thus help your baby talk about what they want.
Think of what your baby wants and then work on signs that will help your baby express them. For example most babies want to be changed, picked up, play, eat and drink. These will be critical in solving your baby’s wants and needs and so give them power to master their world.
Not all babies will have the exact same switches that will create tantrums so it’s important to start reading your baby as soon as possible and teach your baby the signs that will help them specifically. For example, I taught my baby early on about being calm when he got frustrated. This became a precursor for “words.” I would say “calm” and “use your words.” If he didn’t know the word, I would ask for the sign. The word “calm” was the word which proceeded each interaction for solving an issue. This nipped tantrums quickly and helped us work on solving the problem. If the request was reasonable, then we’d both take action to fix it, if it was unreasonable, then we’d have a conversation about why it couldn’t be solved or why we’d have to wait (think waiting until after dinner for dessert, or waiting for attention because I had something else to do).
There’s no question that signing reduced tantrums in our household. Even the grandparents comment about how effective our techniques are and how much more manageable our son was over other toddlers.