In a recent post I described how young moms often worry about being usurped in their child’s mind and heart by a loving child care provider—be it a nanny or a child care center staff member. I provided some tips for dealing with this worry by creating fun routines that are mommy- or daddy-only routines that the child can look forward to and which other caregivers are unlikely to be able to duplicate. At the end of that posting I promised another tip. Here it is: Sign with your baby!
There are many reasons to sign with your baby, but here’s one that fits working moms and dads especially well. Young children, just like the rest of us, are typically at their most irritable at the end of the day. It’s a time when it’s easy to become frustrated when things don’t go exactly right—for example, like not being understood when one needs or wants something. Unfortunately, dinner times are also some of the main times that moms and dads who work outside the home have to spend with their children. What a shame for these precious hours to be spent trying to deal with frayed nerves.
Such situations are particularly likely to arise for babies and toddlers who lack the words to communicate their needs clearly. That’s where signs come in. By enabling preverbal children to make clear what it is they need, want, or feel, signs decrease everyone’s frustration, thereby making it more likely that the few precious hours a working mom has to spend to with her child will go smoothly and end with love and kisses instead of tears and tantrums.
I’ve seen this up close and personal, as they say, with my 18-month-old twin grandchildren. I filled in for a sick nanny last week and was there when mom and dad returned from work. The twins were very hungry. (I’d not known what snacks they were allowed and so probably was guilty of starving them!). Following the initial hugs and reunion kisses, they both began making the eat sign insistently. Mom knew immediately what they needed and, instead of making them wait until dinner was actually ready, sat them down with some pieces of grapes, pears, and cheese. No tears, no trauma, just smiles all around! That’s the magic of signs!
Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Co-Founder, the Baby Signs Program