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Today, I return my attention to another great passion of mine, Infant/Toddler Sign Language, and I'll continue with the next installment in my latest series of posts: Top tips and tricks to help you successfully sign with your baby.
Top Tip #2: Resist the Temptation to Focus Only on Signs that Gratify You:
We all want our children to learn to say please, thank you (and sleep!), and these are definitely great signs for you to use as your signing vocabulary grows. However, in my experience, these concepts are not the best signs to focus on in the early stages of signing. Instead, begin by focusing on the actions and objects your baby has a distinct need to communicate on a regular basis.
Babies will absolutely learn to sign please, (and they will usually learn to sign this word quite quickly). But in my estimation, what your baby is really saying when he or she signs please is, I want, or more! Babies don't yet have the ability to distinguish between their needs and our societal niceties.
The sign for thank you takes longer for babies to produce (often, much longer). This is not because the sign for thank you is particularly difficult to maneuver--it's not. It looks similar to blowing a kiss. The issue is that the sign for thank you doesn't generally yield anything tangible for the baby in return for producing the sign (whereas producing the sign for please often results in getting a want or need met).
I have yet to meet a baby who has woken their parents in the middle of the night just to thank them for all of the trouble they've gone through on their behalf. Babies cry in the night to convey that they want milk, or need a diaper change, or that something is hurting them (or, in the case of my daughter, that she was hungry for a banana), but babies don't wake up their parents just to say, "thanks." It's the things they want to say to you (not the things you hope to hear them say), that babies will most likely sign first.
All that said, it's absolutely fine to use the signs for please and thank you when you verbalize those words to your child. My point is to resist the temptation to emphasize these signs when you are first getting started, (particularly at the expense of other, more want/need-focused signs), realizing that babies tend to be most motivated to sign the words that help them get their wants and needs met.
I do have a suggestion for a fun game to play that provides an opportunity to practice the sign for thank you when your child goes through the developmental stage of giving and taking back a particular toy over and over again. You know this game. The child hands you a ball. You say thank you. Then they take it back. Then they hand you the ball. You say thank you. Then they take it back. To add signing to this playful game, just add the sign for thank you every time you say the words thank you. You can also add the object of interest if you know it. For example: "You have a ball. May I have the ball? Thank you! Uh oh. Where did the ball go? Oh, you have the ball. May I have the ball? Thank you . . ."
Want more details about using focus signs? Click here for a detailed post on the topic.
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