When you teach signs, it’s important to be engaging to your baby. If it’s in you, then over-act and use exaggerated facial expressions to really entertain them. Children love this. Use your whole body, your fingers, your knees, your head and face, bounce up and down and generally act silly, to get and keep your baby’s attention. If you appear bored and disconnected, you can only expect the same from your baby. A bored baby is one who’s not going to pay much attention to you. Use big movements to attract your baby’s eyes toward you and use signs to entertain your audience. If that’s not your personality to ham it up, then don’t worry, you are still your baby’s primary role model and they’ll still look up to you and pick up your signs no matter. Whatever you do, strongly consider livening things up and letting loose. You might rediscover your inner child!
Also make sure to use the proper facial expression for the signs you are doing because it will help a baby understand what you really mean. For example, use a questioning face with wide eyebrows when asking if your baby wants something, an upset face when you’re your baby is doing something you don’t approve of, and a sad face when asking if there’s something wrong. Teaching the signs for various emotions is critical to empowering your baby. By labeling the emotions it permits your baby to communicate them back to you as they are experienced.
Above: Angry: The ANGRY ASL sign is made by formed the fingers into a claw shape facing inward toward the face which are then pulled downward and away from the forehead to indicate furrowing of the face when upset. The sign is also accompanied by an angry face. Think of clawing your face in anger.
While you are on the topic of emotions you might as well teach the signs for MAD, ANGRY, TIRED, SAD, HAPPY, HUNGRY, CRY, SILLY and so forth. Remember to teach these signs in context and catch your baby in the moment. These are very abstract concepts after all, and can’t be easily taught after the moment has past. When you first start teaching these signs, be sure to use a face that is exaggerated more than ordinary so your baby gets the point. If you aren’t sure if you are using enough expression, then try it for a second in the mirror. Sometimes we think it’s obvious to other people how we feel, but much too often our emotions become hidden. This is especially true with facial expressions that we’ve come to conceal in everyday life. Don’t worry about acting silly with your baby – they aren’t going to judge you. In fact, silly faces will bring joy to your baby – and they’ll be learning at the same time!
Above: Practicing emotions when NOT in the moment can help a toddler recognize their emotions. When baby knows their emotions they can describe them and therefore manage them better. This can help make a calmer house. A big part of growing up is learning how we react to things and still function productively when we don’t get what we want. In the video we practice angry, sad, happy, scared. We found that by doing the emotions when relaxed that Holden was able to turn off an emotion or manage it better when in a crisis.