Giving toddlers the powers of communication is liberating for everyone involved. What can become dangerous is not the power itself, but absolute power. If you shake in fear about refusing demands from a toddler than please do avoid signing because it’s going to bring forward their ability to ask for things they want. However, since you are bigger, stronger, and more intelligent than them, they never really achieve absolute power over you so long as you also have will power. Signs will allow your baby to call out the shots…but only if you permit them. They might suddenly point the refrigerator and demand WATER, or MILK. Will you do provide it for them? Well hopefully, so long as it’s not in excess, and why would it? Oh, they want to drink milk instead of eat a well balances meal. Ah, I see. Well in that case, just set your limits and stick to them. No matter how much they sign (or talk) the decision is up to you. Toddlers can’t make proper decisions, they simply can’t process that much information so you need to be the responsible one.
When my son was 15 months old he began to ask for various things randomly throughout the day. We had good habits so things never got out of control. He’d ask for snacks like RAISINS and CEREAL. When thirsty he’d come looking for WATER or MILK. When he wanted to play together he’d bring a book and do the sign. Later he wanted to learn about fire since he’d seen us light the barbecue. So we’d light candles for him to blow out. We didn’t look at his power as a bad thing since we wanted him to be able to understand his desires and express them in a reasonable fashion. Did we deny him CEREAL or RAISIN? Yes of course, but only when it was near a meal so to avoid spoiling his meal. Every request denial came with a logical explanation. Sometimes it was as simple and selfish as Mom or Dad was busy or had work to do. We’d explain this to him. If we had nothing else to do, and could spare a moment, we’d fulfill his request just as we would for any adult. We wanted signs to be his way to meet his wants and needs just like any adult would use their words to get reasonable requests done. Signs aren’t a tool by which toddlers can manipulate their wants upon adults – and only will be so if adults permit them to be used as such. When you teach signs, be prepared to set reasonable limits. If you tread in “no territory” – then stick to it. If you back down, you might instigate a battle in the future. Your toddler will then think boundaries are flexible. However, if you choose your battles and win each one, you’re going to reap great rewards in the future – just be sure to keep level about what you are and aren’t willing to do. Let’s face it, as your toddler grows into a child and then into a much more powerful teenager and eventually into a self-sufficient adult these disputes will become less and less within your means of control (as it should). However, right now, your little guy needs you to help them make responsible choices for them. And just because your toddler is gaining the ability to issue commands, does not mean that they must be obeyed. Set limits early and the structure and predictability will make a more peaceful house and help build confidence in your toddler.