There are a variety of ways to teach the sign for HURT. One of the simplest ways is to employ one of your baby’s favourite stuffed animals or dolls. Simply take the doll and drop it on the floor. Immediately say “Oh poor doll, you fell and HURT yourself” while modeling the sign for HURT. The sign for HURT is done by moving the two index fingers together a few times. Then pick the doll up and ask “WHERE is doll HURT?” Do the sign for WHERE and HURT. WHERE is done by wagging the index finger back and forth a few times at chest level. You want to teach WHERE so that you can ask your baby where they are hurt. Knowing the location of the pain is almost as important as knowing your baby is experiencing pain at all because it will help you devise a remedy. Next, go around the doll’s body with the HURT sign until you “figure out” where the pain is coming from. The HURT sign is done near the source of the pain as a way to indicate where it hurts, so if the doll ‘hurt’ it’s head then you make the HURT near the head. If the doll has a stomach pains, on the other hand, then HURT is done near the stomach.
Above: Touch the index finger of one hand to the other to do the ASL sign for HURT.
Whenever your toddler falls, bumps their head, or catches a finger, but sure to go over and ask them if he’s been HURT, and if so, WHERE it hurts. Naturally you always want to make sure that your baby isn’t seriously hurt before trying to teach the sign, and is calm and relaxed enough, to be able to focus on signing! If your baby has hurt their head or nose or anyplace else where they can’t see the sign being done then just rub the spot where it hurts, and then do the sign in front of your baby so they can see.
Caution: When your baby comes crying to you with their fingers smashing into one another, be careful not to assume that your baby is signing MORE. HURT and MORE can appear very similar and crying often accompanies more than just the pain of bumping a head or stubbing a toe.
Above: How would you know if you baby or toddler had teething pain if they couldn’t communicate? Perhaps he would cry a lot, maybe he might point to his mouth if you’re lucky. However, with baby sign, knowing the source of pain is easy. This video covers my technique for teaching toothache by first identifying teeth with “Alf” and then using the sign HURT. You’ll also want to teach your toddler where his teeth are and describe that he might (at some point) feel pain there. This will give you some lee time and prepare him for when or if it the pain will come. An advanced signer will sign HURT near the source of the pain. Thus, you can sign HURT near the ear for earache or HURT near a knee for a scrap.
Another method to teach hurt is by pretending to hurt yourself when baby is watching, or on the off-chance that you’ve actually hurt yourself when they’re around to see it. My son learned HURT when my wife accidentally scratched up her leg. Because there was a visible mark left over, she was able to do the sign for HURT right over the scratch. If you aren’t so accident prone then pretend to stub a toe or pinch a finger while they watch. Next overact and really play up the pain by hopping around, crying out, saying “ouch” and so forth. Then do the sign for HURT right around where the pain is coming from and say the word at the same time.
Whenever I’ve scratched myself while working and there’s a visible mark, I’ll show my son. I’ll then do the sign for him and talk about how it happened. The same goes for scraps and cuts that have happened to Holden. By revisiting these sources of discomfort it shows how pain is fleeting and how wounds heal with time making them less prominent in their minds. Thus, when an accident does happen, they can marvel at the wounds and they aren’t such a big deal!