Using touch to teach sign language

Observation of deaf mothers interacting with their children shows that they use a lot of tactile stimulation to establish attention with their babies, keep them interested, and connect with them. Stroking and rubbing a baby’s back also anchors both you and your baby, and establishes attention by involving an extra sense.

DefinitiveBabySignCom - Signing StarsWhen I read books with my son, I like to have him sit on my lap so we can snuggle up together. He’ll then rest his hands on mine when he’s not pointing at pictures, asking for me to sign, or when he’s not signing himself. I can then talk to him at full volume, or whisper into his ear. He really enjoys hearing different voice levels. Tactile interaction is a silent way to communicate thoughts and feelings to your baby and build your relationship at the same time. [Right: Reading and signing together – this sign is UP]

Another way hearing impaired people establish attention is by gentle tapping the hand or forearm of the person they which to speak to. Babies are pretty busy people and taking the time to come over to them, make eye contact, and lightly touching their hand, captures them much more effectively than does a steadily increased voice volume. Because you are stimulating more than just one sense, you make it difficult for your baby to ignore. I’m a firm believer that the best way to overcome a screaming child is to model calming behaviours for them. Getting stressed out, yelling and carrying on, will only serve to amplify the stress your baby is experiencing. So if your baby is having a tantrum, try whispering into their ear instead, and you just might be surprised by how much they will calm down trying to hear what you are saying. Mirroring is a strong force throughout our lives and often induces others to copy our moods and attitudes especially those that are rooted in nonverbal communication.

DefinitiveBabySignCom - PassionTapping your baby’s hand can also remind them that they should be doing something with their hands. You can do this when they forget to sign. To do this, verbally repeat the sentence and sign, then wait to see if your baby will sign it back, if they don’t sign, or begin to rock or whine instead as if wanting something, tap their hand again with your index and middle finger. You can help your baby even more by gently pushing their hands together as if trying to guide them to do the sign. This works well for the MORE sign, but can also work well for almost any other sign. People are pretty lazy by nature and tapping or pushing your baby’s hands guides them to where you want them to go. Your baby will then naturally follow through with the motion because they will want to take the path of least resistance. Guiding in this way can prove to help your baby complete a sign they might not have otherwise done without prompting. The beauty of this technique is that it is done through total nonverbally means without tantrums or screaming, and happens nearly subconsciously so your baby will hardly notice what you’ve done.

Guiding works because babies, like all people like to find the easiest way around in their lives. By moving their hands, you force them to resist, which requires work, so in this situation, it’s easier to follow through with whatever it is you are guiding them toward. Thus, if you move their hands even just a little bit closer, they will continue toward the sign because it’s easier than trying to back their hands away. While this doesn’t work with all babies, especially particularly independent ones, it does work on most. If you find you have a stubborn baby, then use even less force than you would otherwise so as not to create additional contempt. Either way though, guiding is not meant to be a forceful technique in any capacity. When done, correctly, it shouldn’t be noticed.

This technique can work great when babies are headed toward things in the house which they are not permitted to touch such as the trash bin. Simply grab their hands and aim them in a different direction. If they continue, guide them again. Soon they’ll learn with only light pressure that it’s easier to turn around and head the other way instead of resisting. You can also get toddlers to clean their rooms this way, just get them started on a task and let them follow through.

Touch can be used anytime of the day but do consider using it when your instincts tell you otherwise. In other words, avoid mirroring your child’s bad behaviour and use calm when facing their stormy tempers. Touch is great during story time, while playing games, or when fooling around. Use touch to anchor you and your child and also to guide them toward behaviours that are productive rather instead of those that are destructive.

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