When young children are in the midst of conflict, it's not unusual for those conflicts to become physical. Frustrated toddlers and preschoolers might push or hit to express their discontent. Parents can be heard saying, "Use your words. Use your words." When I think of this refrain from the prospective of a young child, (for whom a doll or truck or teddy bear is a large portion of their entire world, and for whom emotional maturity is still in the making), words alone may not cut it. There is ENERGY in those little bodies. Emotional energy that needs to come out somehow, someway. The sign for stop is one of the ways I've seen this emotional energy escape appropriately.
When you make the sign, stop, it looks similar to a laymen's impression of a karate chop. It is physical. It involves sound (try it out and listen). It involves force. It is visually noticeable. It feels satisfying to forcefully say, "Stop" and forcefully sign stop when someone is doing/saying/taking something to or from you that is not welcome. Using the sign for stop provides an opportunity for a child (or a grown up!) to use their words and express their physical energy.
I first heard about using the sign for stop in conflictual situations when I read about a pilot study at Ohio State University back in the late 1990's. Kimberlee Whaley said the initial idea came from watching the occasional conflicts in classrooms at Ohio State’s A. Sophie Rogers Infant-Toddler Laboratory School. According to Whaley, “When toddlers have a conflict, they often will push each other to communicate their displeasure. We wondered what would happen if we could give them another physical way to express their anger. Well, the sign for ‘stop’ is very physical -- one hand slamming into the other -- so we thought that might work.” The experiences at the school (and my own observations) indicate that the sign for stop is an excellent communication tool for children in conflictual situations. Similarly, this journal article summarizes a case study advocating for sign language as a general tool and outlet for students who can otherwise be disruptive.
In addition to using the sign for stop in situations of conflict, I've used it to convey danger (in place of the over-used "No"), and I've used it in place of the word "Freeze," during dance and movement portions of my signing workshops. (NOTE: If you want ideas for a super fun dance and movement ideas, read this post written by a rockstar librarian).
I'd love to hear your experiences for using the sign for stop (or other signs) to help kids express their physical emotions in positive, acceptable ways.
If you want more tips for enriching your learning environment with sign language, you can find links to the full series of posts here. Next time I'll talk about the quiet game.