NO TOUCH, TOUCH GENTLE, WAIT, QUIET, STOP, YES NO, GOOD and BAD are safety and behavioural signs you should begin teaching early on, but don’t expect to see them originate from your baby right away. These are signs that anchor your thoughts mean that your baby will find little use for them. Your baby is going to hear these words so often verbally they will recognize them, so you might wonder what the sense in teaching the signs is. Well, it emphasizes the words to your baby and makes them separate units of speech. It shows your baby that they are important and worth of their attention when you deliver them.
NO TOUCH can be taught just as soon as your baby begins to crawl. Their body will be getting much more capable as will their ability and desire to roam. This puts them in certain danger, not to mention the much greater likelihood of them getting into places you’d prefer they wouldn’t, such as the china cabinet, or the garbage! NO TOUCH is a combination of the sign for NO and TOUCH and always done along with spoken words. NO is done by snapping the middle and index finger onto the thumb and TOUCH is signed by tapping the middle finger against the back of the hand. NO TOUCH is also an excellent sign to use as a secret sign between you and your toddler, should it be necessary when visiting others or while in public. In other words, you can do the sign silently from across the room when your toddler gets into something they shouldn’t.
Above: This ASL sign is done by combining NO and TOUCH. First do the sign for NO by touching the index and middle finger to the thumb and then touching the back of the hand other palm-down with the index finger.
NO TOUCH is an easy sign to teach and one you will use often so it will be reinforced frequently and in many contexts. When teaching it, be sure to stop your toddler before they cause any damaged by grabbing their hand and gently pulling them aside. Then model the sign for them as you indicate to them what it is they shouldn’t touch and the reason for doing so. Usually this means that something is dangerous, unsanitary or fragile. You should always explain the reason they can’t touch something so they don’t think it’s for some random reason. Whenever you do the sign be sure to have a stern and urgent voice and a worried or nervous facial expression. A second method of teaching NO TOUCH involves putting out a bunch of similar objects with one dissimilar one in the bunch. Tell your baby that this odd one out is not to be touched. Then allow your baby to freely play with the objects except the one item. If they touch it, then just do the sign for NO TOUCH and take it away from them and place it back on the floor. As your baby plays, remind them a few times which item is not to be touched.
TOUCH GENTLE is done by gently “petting” the back of the opposite hand. This sign should be taught when babies first begin to develop their physical strength. Unfortunately, hitting becomes almost second nature for a lot of infants and teaching them it’s inappropriate is a must to keep the peace between toddlers. If you have pets around the house, they’ll also appreciate your lessons on how to properly stroke their bellies (without pulling their tails!) TOUCH GENTLE is also useful when handling delicate pieces that you can’t convince your toddler to resist. To teach TOUGH GENTLE always use a soothing voice to mirror the action your hand makes. Begin by grasping your baby’s arm and moving it gently overtop of the object, pet, or other person showing them the proper force to use as you sign and say TOUCH GENTLE. Next, stroke their body lightly while saying and signing the words. Always catch aggressive behaviours early, no matter when they arise, and use a firm voice saying NO, and then TOUCH GENTLE before helping your baby do the action. TOUCH GENTLE can also be done using stuffed animals, in lieu of real ones, especially if you are unsure if your baby might not properly follow commands. Just follow the same instructions above until your baby understands the amount of pressure that is acceptable.
Above: The dominant hand lightly strokes the back of the non-dominant hand in the ASL sign for GENTLE. This sign is similar to the sign for pet.
WAIT is a tantrum reducing sign since it can be used to tell your baby that something they enjoy is near, but not quite ready for them. For example, when my little toddler was getting impatient for dinner, or while putting his shoes on to go outside, the sign helped to calm him and slow him down. I then might add QUIET if he persisted. When using the sign for WAIT, do not expect miracles. Toddlers are impatient by nature so fully expect them to acknowledge the sign, then repeatedly check back in to see if they’ve waited long enough – even if it’s only been a few seconds. Often, WAIT must be followed up with other signs like go PLAY, or other activity based sign so it replaces, rather than inhibits an activity. Toddlers find it hard to come up with alternative ideas when they’ve set their mind on something, so it helps for you to assist them in this department. Over time, they’ll grow more independent.
Above: A way I thought my son the sign for WAIT using a rubber ball that lights up when you drop it. In the second method I make him wait to break down a block tower. There are lots of ways to teach WAIT. This sign is important to a toddler because it lets baby know that gratification won’t be instant and so reduces whining, frustration and thus tantrums. You can see in the video near the end where we use WAIT as a way to cut a potentially volatile situation to one with very little fuss.
Above: The hands are pointed fingers up in the “5” hand with fingers wiggling to sign ALS for WAIT.
QUIET, STOP,YES, NO, GOOD and BAD are all signs that can be used by parents to reward good behaviour while diminishing bad ones. Parents can also use these signs to ensure their child is being safe and staying out of harm’s way. Keep in mind as you sign, that gesturing brings much more authority to commands than does a voice alone. It activates both sides of your child’s brain – their left and right hemispheres – their sense of hearing and their sense of vision – making your toddler more likely to response rather than ignore a command. Just be sure to couple your signs with appropriate body language, tone of voice and facial expression, for maximum effect. For example, when doing the sign for STOP, which is the hand coming down in a chopping motion onto the opposite hand, palm up, be sure to do it decisively, clearly and with enthusiasm. If your sign is ignored, don’t be afraid to repeat it again. The same goes for the sign for NO and QUIET.
Above: When doing the ASL sign for QUIET first bring the index finger up and to the lips making the “shhh” sign and then dropping the hands palm down as if pushing the sound lower.
On the other hand, when you catch your little guy doing something positive, be sure to praise them by doing the sign for GOOD. My son caught onto this early right away and would ask for the sign when he knew he was doing something right. YES is a sign you will want to use frequently because your toddler will learn to look to you for permission when doing questionable or potentially dangerous things. You can then do the sign and nod showing them that it’s okay, or conversely shake your head and do the sign for NO, when it’s not, you can reinforce and punish their behaviour accordingly. The sign for BAD, of course, is context specific. Generally I would advise that it is reserved for extreme situations, but I’m also not afraid to make it known when behaviour is unacceptable. Emotional intelligence can only be developed by talking about our behaviour, and the sooner this is starter, the better.