Part of raising children involves teaching them about their various emotions and how to deal with them. Using signs is definitely a help, although it doesn’t make teaching them all that much simpler. It does however, give toddlers a head start on the matter and can help curtail tantrums early.
As mentioned earlier in the book, emotions are best taught as they happen. When your baby can label an emotion they have a foundation for understanding them. This can then lead into a discussion, and from there, your baby can develop a sense of confidence and control. Learning about emotions gives your baby a foothold on controlling and dealing with their reactions. As they age, they’ll find more acceptable outlets that don’t involve kicking, scream and other outbursts. Before your baby gets to this stage, they need to be able to “talk” about how they feel.
Young toddlers can learn and communicate HAPPY, SAD, ANGRY, HUNGRY, TIRED, CRY, GOOD, BAD, FUN, SCARED, LAUGH, LOVE, SILLY, and many others too! These are the kinds of signs that are taught as you work through life, however, there are also ways to create them outside of the moment. For example, emotions can be primed by modeling facial expression at any time of the day. Just make the appropriate face, which should be done during the sign anyway, while quizzing your baby about what emotion is being represented. SAD can be done when Mom or Dad leave for work, TIRED near bed or nap time, ANGRY and FROWN when baby wants something they can’t have, HAPPY, FUN, SMILE, and SILLY when playing, LAUGH when being tickled, GOOD and BAD when playing nicely or when your baby is getting into places they shouldn’t, CRY when shedding a tear, HUNGRY near meal times and so forth. If you are up for it, you can roll play the various emotions using the appropriate facial expressions. You can even create conversations about various characters in books discussing how they might feel in their situation.
Above: The flat hand with palm down pats the chest repeatedly with an upward stroking movement. Think of happy thoughts bubbling up as you make the ASL sign for HAPPY.
Above: In the “Y” handshape with the thumb and little finger extended, touch the tip of the nose and twist brushing the tip of the nose with the thumb. Use a silly expression on your face in the ASL sign for SILLY.
SCARED should really be reserved for older toddlers, or for babies who really need the sign. The sign itself requires a person to make a frightening face and this can be just as upsetting to a terrified child as anything else! Some baby’s, mine included, love to be startled, he’d giggle every time, even from an early age. In fact, it was the only way we could get him to laugh early on! That meant we had an opening to teach him SCARED, although we still didn’t bother since outside of this fun game, nothing ever seemed to bother him, he was a pretty mellow. Scared was a sign that just wasn’t needed. However, for a baby who wakes up frequently at night or who won’t fall asleep because something is bothering them, teaching them the sign will empower them. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend that you actively try to teach the sign for SCARED unless you feel it might help a baby or toddler grasp a concept and ease their troubled mind. Obviously, the same thing applies to all of the negative emotions like ANGRY and SAD.
That being said, take the opportunity to talk about emotions that your baby is experiencing. However, always allow your baby to cool down before striking up a conversation. A baby must be relaxed to be able to conceptualize the lesson. If you are on your baby too fast, the raw emotion will cloud their ability to think clearly. On the other hand, if you wait too long and the moment has passed, it will be too difficult to recall vividly and the opportunity will have been lost. Strike that balance between having a relaxed baby who is comforted and one that is still receptive to learning a lesson. Do talk about emotions as they fade though too. A tantrum should be discussed into the future so that your toddler understands that emotions are fleeting and they eventually pass with time. This will make emotions, when they occur, more subdued.
Above: Fingertips of the bent open “B” shape on either side of the chest are rotated downward at the wrist but remain affixed to the chest as the head droops. A tired facial expression should accompany the ALS sign for TIRED.
The sign is how a baby will label an emotion which will permit us to communicate with them about it later on. So do the sign early on to label the emotion, then recall it a short time later to discuss it. This will help your baby develop emotional intelligence.
Labeling emotions will give your baby an early voice helping them to communicate their thoughts and feelings instead of pushing your baby toward acting out in other less acceptable ways. It also helps to validate feelings making your baby feel more confident creating a sense of empowerment. Labeling emotions creates self mastery. As you continue to teach your baby about their emotions encourage them to discuss what it is they are feeling instead of whining, kicking, screaming or biting.
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.