Every new parent fears its arrival: the toddler tantrum.Every new parent fears its arrival: the toddler tantrum. We see in the grocery store, at the library and on the T. The toddler stands with fists clenched, brow furrowed and the once-sweet little mouth twisted up in fury. Every child will get angry over something she can’t control, probably several times, over toddlerhood. This is true. But what if there were a way to cut the number of tantrums by half?
Hint: The hand gesture in the picture above does not, in fact, signify, “Hang Five”. That’s how you say, “I love you” in sign language.
Baby sign language is not just a fad.We see sign language almost everywhere toddlers are now: at daycare, preschool, play groups and playgrounds. But baby sign language is not just a fad, like horoscopes in the 70s or aerobics and leg warmers in the 80s. It’s an actual tool in child development. Producing language involves incredibly complex muscle movements and babies have a desire and ability to communicate months before they are able to form words. Babies can begin to sign around eight months and by a year, their fingers are flying.
The benefits of sign language are multiple. It can help, first of all, and most obviously, with communication. Your baby will be able to tell you when she wants to eat, drink or nurse, when he’s hurt or when she wants her stuffed elephant. The ability to communicate these needs and desires can help diminish the frustration that often causes tantrums. Suddenly, your child can be heard and understood.
Sign language gives parents a peek into the minds of their toddlers.But even beyond the helpfulness of communicating needs, sign language gives parents a peek into the minds of their toddlers. You learn what they’re thinking about, what they remember. In our house it’s given our daughter a magical gift: story telling. Our toddler saw her first (and only) fox when she was just over a year old. The fox chased a squirrel and then sat under a tree enjoying the sun and giving itself a bath. After a quick look in an online sign language video dictionary we taught her fox and squirrel. In the months following she has told the story over and over again with her rudimentary signs. Sometimes she tells it after she sees a squirrel or when the cat, with one delicate paw extended, cleans herself. Sometimes the memory seems to come out of nowhere. With sign language a toddler can express the varied and creative associations he makes between granddad’s beard and Santa Claus, between broccoli and trees.
There are still more benefits. Not only does sign language develop social skills, but also, according to various sources, it will make your child smarter. In one study eight year olds who learned sign language as toddlers scored an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests than children who did not sign. Others suggest they develop larger speaking vocabularies earlier.
Parents can look for a local class or do it on their own. You can find Baby Signing Times CDs at your local library and learn the signs along with your child. A starter list of some local baby sign language classes is below.
Of course, signing is not a panacea for all toddler tantrums. Your child will have to learn eventually that just because she can ask for it, doesn’t mean she’s going to get it. But perhaps next time they throws a fit, at least you’ll know exactly why, and you might be able to commiserate with them once they let you know how fun it would have been to squish the banana into the rug.
Baby sign language classes in the Boston area
Little Laughing Hands, Together in Motion Annex in Arlington
Mama and me, Jamaica Plain
Tiny Signs, Natick
- Isis Parenting, Boston, Arlington and Needham