I hit on all the other benefits all at once in the previous section, but one of the significant benefits, aside from really connecting with your silent baby, is to build their self esteem and confidence. From there your baby will begin to develop as a little person who can control their impulses, and while they might not be able to control their emotions (who can), they’ll at least understand them better and be able to label them. This is a rite of passage for all of us, and something all people eventually come to terms with. By teaching a baby manners such as PLEASE, THANK YOU, SORRY, NO TOUCH, TOUCH GENTLE as well as EAT (for hungry), HURT, ANGRY, SAD, SLEEP (tired) and so forth, you can arm your baby with appropriate language. In turn, he’ll use the words he knows as a means to an end (his end). So instead of tantrums, he’ll ask for the things he wants. In other words, he won’t be frustrated by being misunderstood and this will significantly diminish outbursts.
Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a child come to you and make the sign for SLEEP when they are tired or EAT when they are hungry instead of throwing a big fit? How much of the “terrible two’s” has to do with the inability to properly communicate thoughts? This is probably a difficult or impossible thing to measure, but parents who sign with their baby’s report that their children have significantly reduced episodes.
The terrible two’s, as mentioned, seem to peak at around 18 months rather than at the 24 month mark. This is right around the first appearance of increased verbal communication, but is also when communication hasn’t yet been mastered, nor have manners or etiquette been introduced in most circumstances. When tantrums occur they are not just a result of finally having some form of verbal communication though as common sense might lead you to believe. Rather, tantrums coincide with an increase in muscular coordination and an increase in neural development, so there’s more to it than just the increasing ability to communicate. The root of the terrible two’s lies in the fact that your baby finally realizes their desires coupled with an inability to truly control their emotions. Most tantrums are the direct result of wanting to escape a distressing situation, wanting something, or seeking attention. While not all signing babies will be able to understand their wants and be able to vocalize them, signing does give them a significant advantage over non-signing babies.
Above: This is what a tantrum looks like when a toddler has strong communication skills. Him throwing the clothes down the stairs because he didn’t want to do his morning diaper change (his worst chore). Without getting upset, we worked through our problems with the language we had. No “time-out” was necessary as punishment because we used “natural consequences” in this case (and whenever possible). In this case, fixing the problem by picking the clothes up by himself WAS the consequence/punishment. This process probably seems rather time consuming and we did have the benefit of having time on our side, but being relaxed is a key component to raising a child how is also relaxed and lacks drama. We get back what we give!
This is where baby sign language helps because by the time baby reaches the stage when tantrums arise, they can have 6 months, or more, experience with constructive communication. Why go on a wild goose chase every time a baby has a need or want, when you can simply ask them? By 18 months of age, most signing babies will be able to tell you exactly what is they want eliminating all the guesswork. Babies can be taught how to get out of unpleasant situations by learning to say NO and ALL DONE to adults which reduces a baby’s stress, and that of adults too! If there is no option but to carry forward such BATH time or DIAPER, then a parent can acknowledge a child’s distress through their signs. The parent can then explain why such a task is required and move cautiously forward with the best intentions. When wants can’t be reasonably met, then baby at least feels heard and understood.
That’s the beauty of communicating with your baby. Because they gain an early voice it also permits two-way communication that may or may not be in favour of the demands your baby makes. In fact, learning to accept NO, is a strong reason to teach sign language because it prepares a baby for the real world where NO pops up much more often then does the word YES. By teaching the signs for the things that interest and have value to your baby, you are empowering them with the language necessary to request them at any moment. By the same token, you are preparing them to accept varied responses from you. The sign for MORE is a baby favourite and will probably be used more often than any other. However, just because a baby expresses an interest in MORE does not mean you have to provide them with it. In fact, it’s probably a mistake to always meet a baby’s demands as inevitably the time will come when you can’t or won’t, and this will set off tantrums. It’s best to balance requests earlier on when baby is less likely to be as set in their ways.
In the end, it’s not just your baby who’s frustration will be reduced, it will be yours too. Teaching sign language and how to communicate want and needs and also how to accept NO is a very important step in controlling emotions.