Creative Child

The Baby Signs That Changed My Life

by Brittany Ferrell on Sep 3rd, 2015

Before becoming a parent I read a lot of books about babies. I was very worried that I would not be able to meet her basic needs. How will I know if she is hungry? How will I know if she needs to poop? How will I know if she is in pain? I discovered the answers to those questions within my daughter’s first twelve hours of life. I knew my daughter was hungry because she would bury those eagerly seeking little lips into my bosom, rooting around until she found her target, and then relax back into my arms. I knew she needed to poop when she screamed like a banshee as she tried to pass that awful first meconium poo. Her shrieks, coupled with her sweet face turning the shade of a ripe tomato, let me know that she was in pain.

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The first few months as a new mom, I began noticing the subtle differences in my daughter’s cries. That’s her “I need milk” cry, her “change me” cry, her “I know I am wet, but I hate having my diaper changed” cry. I was blessed with a happy baby who was very easily soothed, so her cries were few and far between. I fell in sync with her body rhythms and was often able to anticipate her needs, thus eliminating her need to cry altogether. Oh, what a blissful existence we had! As my daughter grew, so did her needs…and wants. This is an important distinction for someone of any age, but especially so for a tiny human just beginning to explore this great, big, amazing world. My daughter needed to be fed, changed, and held. She wanted to wrap clumps of my hair around her tiny fists, chew on my necklace, and yank on our dog’s long, floppy ears. It was not long before her list of wants grew, just as she did.

Before I knew it, my sweet, happy, and docile baby transformed into an energetic toddler with a personality all her own. It seemed to happen so suddenly. One day I was holding a cooing infant who only required a full belly, a clean diaper, and her mama’s arms to fall into a state of pure bliss. It was like I blinked and the next thing I knew, I was staring at a toddler. A toddler who was sobbing uncontrollably and flailing her arms with abandon while simultaneously stomping her feet. I had no idea what to do. What did this little person want? Like a lightning bolt, it hit me. My daughter could understand everything I said to her and I understood nothing of what she was trying to communicate to me. She was frustrated. I was frustrated. I knew I had some time before my daughter would be able to dictate her innermost thoughts and desires in complete sentences, so I turned to baby sign language. These baby signs saved my life…and my sanity.

Baby Sign Language

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Baby Signs: Please/Thank You/You’re Welcome

When I started researching baby sign language and how it works, the first sign I came across was the sign for “more”. I taught my daughter this sign, but she had trouble picking it up. More…what? She is a toddler. She wants more of everything! Alternatively, I taught her the sign for “please”. I showed her how to point to what it was she wanted and then sign “please” by rubbing her hand over her chest in a circular motion. She picked up this sign in less than a day, as she quickly realized that please really is a magical word. By signing “please” she not only was granted the object of her desire, she began developing confidence. She realized that she was doing something correctly and she was being rewarded, both extrinsically and intrinsically.

  • The sign for “please” is done by rubbing your hand over your chest in a circular motion.
  • The sign for “thank you” is done by touching your lips like you are blowing a kiss.
  • The sign for "you're welcome" is similar to “thank you”, but is done by touching your chin instead of your lips.

I taught my daughter the sign for “thank you” (touching your lips like you are blowing a kiss) in conjunction with “please”. I taught her to sign thank you to me when I provided her with whatever she happened to be asking for, but I also began signing thank you to her each time she exhibited behaviors I deemed as positive, for instance: petting our dog gently, cleaning up her toys, or bestowing a sweet kiss upon my cheek.

My daughter began associating the sign of “thank you” with both objects and acts in which she was grateful for. I receive a “thank you” when I fill her sippy cup with water, but she also signs “thank you” after every story I read to her. The sign for “you’re welcome” (similar to “thank you”, but touching your chin instead of your lips) naturally came next. Now, we had a succession of signs. “Please” fill my sippy cup, “thank you” for filling my sippy cup, followed by my response of “you’re welcome”. We were communicating!

Baby Sign: Hurt

  • The sign for “hurt” is done by making two fists, then extending your index fingers to touch one another.

I found that when teaching "hurt" it is also important to make a dramatic pained expression with your face. Your toddler will find this absolutely hilarious until they are actually hurt and that is when this sign becomes indispensable. My daughter awoke one night, screaming in pain. I checked her entire body and could not figure out what was causing her such distress. I asked her what hurt and made the sign. Still crying, she mimicked the sign for “hurt” and pointed to her right ear.

Just to be certain, I pointed to her left ear and made the sign for hurt, asking if that ear hurt also. She shook her head and again made the sign for hurt and pointed to her right ear. The pediatrician confirmed it the next morning, she had an ear infection in her right ear. As a parent who constantly frets about all kinds of ailments befalling my child, this is the sign that gives me the most peace of mind.

Related Article: 5 Things Your Toddler Needs You to Know

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