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31 Aug 2021

The Problem With Baby Sign

Jo Emmerson

There is a problem with teaching your little one to sign, one which no one talks about...

When babies are small and unable to speak, it is much easier to assume that they are happy with the choices we make for them.

'NOW it's time for a nappy change'
'NOW it's time for a cuddle'
'NOW it's time for bed'

And they might fuss or cry, but that's what babies do, right?
But here's the shocker - here's the problem.
When you teach babies to sign, it suddenly becomes apparent that they REALLY REALLY have their own ideas.
You might sign 'nappy change' and they smile to tell you they have understood... before crawling away in the opposite direction.

You sign 'sleep' and they grin and repeat the sign back to you to show you that yes, they know what the sign for 'sleep' means as they giggle and carry on playing...🤪

They have an understanding of the world and priorities for their time which are profoundly different to those of us adults.

It's why everything we do at Little Hurrahs is founded on an ethos of Respectful Parenting. Once you start to have meaningful communication with a child, you have to start to respect their thoughts, needs and choices.

Which is not to say don't change the nappy!
Try this:
If your little one is an octopus on the changing mat, give them some warning. Before you pick them up for the nappy change, get down to their level, tap their arm gentle to get their attention and say and sign 'ready, nappy change' - and then wait.

No, really - WAIT
If the nappy isn't leaking and there's no immediate threat to their safety, just wait.

Let them finish what they're doing (and help them build their ability to concentrate). When they look away from their toy/hand/whatever they were playing with, sign & say again 'ready, nappy change'. And wait again for them to look at you. Once you have eye contact, say and sign 'ready' one more time, before picking them up, and taking them to the changing mat.

Then sign and say 'ready, nappy change' again before getting them undressed. Keep talking to them, in a calm voice, throughout the process. Let them know what you're doing ('I'm going to wipe your bum now') and keep making eye contact. Let them know that they are safe and a part of the activity.

Even when you're dealing with a 'poonami', and need to just get the job done quickly, you can continue to talk to your little one, letting them know that they are ok, and helping them to prepare for a cold cloth, or some stingy cream.

It sounds like a slow process, dragging out what is essentially not the most pleasant job. But beyond giving birth to them, nappy changes are probably the most intimate things we do with our little ones - it's ok to show them that you will treat them with respect during the process.

And after a few weeks of slowing things down, signing and explaining what's going on, you will find your little one will come much more willingly to the mat, or will start signing to tell you they need a sleep, or happily give up their toy so that you can get them dressed.
They will come along with you, without the stress and tears and resistance, because you are moving at their pace and communicating at their level and they feel included and understood.

Give it a go, and let me know how you get on.

Jo x

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