Passionate About Boston
and the Moms Who Live Here

Baby Sign Language :: Giving My Toddlers a Voice

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My twins have just entered toddlerhood. It is intense. Almost everyone says the first year with twins is the hardest, but I thoroughly enjoy babies. And while I was (and still am) certainly sleep deprived, I spent the first year (mostly) blissfully soaking up all the baby snuggles I could get.

This toddler stage has been much harder for me. It’s amazing to watch them growing and navigating through a new stage of life, but seemingly overnight my sweet babies started shrieking in frustration, throwing little tantrums, and putting themselves in danger on a regular basis. With this came my own frustration and toddleresque outbursts. Along with deep breaths, ice cream, and parenting books, one thing I have found that helps alleviate or avoid some of my twins’ toddler dissatisfaction is baby sign language. Less frustration for the babies means less exasperation for me, and this, in turn, helps me become the patient, calm mama I strive to be.

When I was teaching school, I used a handful of signs with my students — “water,” “bathroom,” and “I agree” could all be communicated silently instead of interrupting a story or a lesson. Paired with my memories of my younger brother learning to sign “more” at daycare 20 years ago, and experience working at a daycare center myself, I knew it could be helpful to use signs at home with my babies. Between my personal experiences and reading the benefits cited on sign language websites and toddler parenting books (decreased tantrums, increased communication), I thought it was well worth my time to give it a shot.

I’ve been doing signs for basic needs like eat, milk, and sleep with my babies since they were about 6 months old. Around their first birthday they started using a few signs to communicate. Now, at nearly 15 months, my kids are at the stage where they understand a lot, but they say only a few words that don’t sound like minion babble. They know what they want but can get frustrated if I don’t understand them. With some research and lots of repetition on my part, both babies (ahem, toddlers) can now sign many things to help get their point across. They can tell me when they are hungry, thirsty, tired, or need help. They can tell me they are “all done” or want more of something. And they know signs for favorite foods like peas, fruit, and avocado and will request them.

As needed, I look up and practice new signs. We recently started a sign language class that is also building our signing vocabulary. The babies are soaking up language rapidly and have even started pairing signs (“milk” plus “please”), which is pretty amazing to me, considering “mama,” “dada,” and “up up up” are their only discernible words. Do they always use signs? No, they certainly still shriek or melt down, but not nearly as often as they would without sign language. Do all their signs look like textbook sign language? No, of course not, but as long as I know what they’re signing, it’s communication and effective for our family. It’s empowering for my toddlers to have a communication tool, and it’s so helpful for me and my husband to figure out what they’re trying to tell us!

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