December 12, 2012

When To Use Signs Such as Want, Again, and Please

Building on the question I answered in last week's blog post, today I will discuss when it might be useful to introduce more intermediate signs such as "want," and "please," in addition to more basic signs such as "eat"/hungry" and "more."

In the early developmental stages, babies' language and conceptual categories are very broad. Food is Milk. Over time, a new category for food develops: crackers. As more time passes, more categories for crackers develop: fish crackers, graham crackers, saltine crackers.  As even more time passes, even more sub-categories for crackers develop: cheesy fish crackers and plain fish crackers; regular graham crackers and chocolate graham get the idea.

Photo ©
Language acquisition follows along in this pattern. In the beginning, basic signs like "eat"/"hungry" and "more" will apply to many of the concepts your baby will want and need to convey. As I discussed in my last post, even though your baby likely means "I want" when he signs "more," the basic concept s/he is trying to convey is "bring me the things I need and want!" Over time, his or her wants and needs will become more specific: "I want more food." "I'm feeling hungry."  "I'm hungry for bananas." "I want more bananas."

All that said, once babies start signing, it's not at all uncommon for them to start babbling in sign. Picture this scene: You're on a walk with your baby. S/he is making all kinds of vocal articulations. Yak, yak, yak, yak, yak. This is verbal babbling. It's not uncommon for signing babies to likewise babble in sign language. Their hands will be moving like crazy. You'll see the sign for banana. You'll see the sign for apple. You'll see the sign for cracker. It's not that your baby necessarily wants any of these things right now...he is just yaking about the things that are important in his world.

But then at some point on that same walk, you'll see him sign milk. It will be emphatic. He will sign it over and over again. You might even see both hands going.  THIS is a baby that's ready to add the sign for "want" (and/or "please") to his repertoire." You might find yourself saying, "Do you want your milk? Here's your milk." Or, you might say, "Show me please and I can get your milk for you." Good job. Here's your milk."

Now, granted, if this particular baby is really hungry for milk, or it's getting close to nap time, or he or she has an intense temperament, dragging out the conversation like this (with our without signing), is likely going to lead to a frustrated baby.  You'll have to be the judge as to the right situations and timing to introduce these more intermediate concepts and signs to your baby. The overall point I'm trying to make is that your baby will reach a point when they will sign about things they don't actually need or want at that moment, and there will be times that they do in fact want what they are signing for. When a baby has reached that level of sophistication in their communication, they are ready for more intermediate words that can enhance their communication.

Photo Courtesy of Fotopedia
Quick side note: Some of you are reading this and thinking, "Hey, my baby has been signing please for months. It was one of her first signs..." It's true. Many babies do sign please very early, and a tee tiny baby signing please is an absolutely darling sight to behold (not to mention, it makes us look good as parents when our babies appear to be mannerly). Here's the rub: In my experience, most babies that sign please early are likely using that sign as a substitute for the more general concept of "I want" (similar to the discussion in my last post, re: babies who sign "more" when technically they mean "I want"). So, you can kid yourself all you want by thinking that your baby is mannerly, when in fact, more realistically, he or she is using a symbol that we associate with manners (please) with a concept that they associate with getting their needs met (bring it on...). But not to worry. It does look darned cute when a baby is rubbing their chest ferociously to convey their desire for something. And I'm all for darned cute! In fact, if YOU have some cute pictures of your baby signing, I would love for you to share them with me so I can feature them in a future blog post. Get in touch if you do. Cheers! Dawn

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