One of the smartest things I have ever done is teach my daughter sign language. Because of that gift, she has been able to communicate her needs and wants since she was 4 months old. Now that she’s a toddler, this ability to express herself has been invaluable for both of us. I’ve seen so many near-tantrums just melt away when I remind her that she can use a word or a sign to tell me what she needs. It’s also a great way to see into the mind of a toddler. The logic there is fabulous!
Here are some examples from today. When we were going downstairs in the morning, she started fussing as I was partway down the stairs and pointing back to the bedroom door. I went back up and asked her what she wanted. She signed, “owl” and pointed toward the dresser. Without sign language, this could easily have resulted in a major meltdown with her pointing in frustration and me scrambling to try to guess which of the objects she wanted. Instead, I picked up the owl figurine my sister had given her and handed it to my daughter. Crisis averted.
When I put my daughter in her seat for breakfast, we had a brief battle of wills over the owl figurine because I insist that she put toys, etc. aside during mealtimes. After some coaxing, she set her owl on the table, and I got her breakfast all set up for her. She ate a couple bites then started fussing and refused to eat more. Here was our conversation:
Mum: “Honey, you need to eat more breakfast.”
Owl: (signs) “Owl.”
Mum: “Your owl is fine. She needs to stay on the table until you’re done eating.”
Owl: (shakes head no and fusses)
Mum: “Owl is right there where you can see her. She’ll be fine until you’re done eating. Is there something else you need?”
Owl: (signs) “Elephant.”
We have an elephant figurine that’s the same size as her owl figurine, and they often hang out and play together. This all makes sense now.
Mum: “You need me to get the elephant?”
Mum: (goes to get the elephant from the living room) “So the owl was lonely without her friend, and that’s why you couldn’t eat?”
I put the elephant on the table beside the owl, and my daughter smiled and went back to eating her breakfast. This whole situation would have led to a major tantrum had she not been able to communicate this important Toddler Logic to me. Since she was able to tell me what was wrong in her world, I was able to fix it. Once her owl had a companion, all was well in her world.
Throughout the day, she was able to tell me when she wanted milk, her cup, to eat, a book, to read, more of whatever she was eating or I was singing, and she was able to converse with me about what the silly cat or dog was doing or what was happening in the book we were reading.
Right now, she knows how to say lots of words, but she’s still signing more than speaking. Conversations with her are a combination of words and signs. Because each of her needs and wants was communicated and she knew I understood her, she had a fabulous, happy day. Sure, there were moments when she was unhappy, like when I told her it was pajama time. She wasn’t ready for that tonight, so we had to overcome that disagreement. Meltdowns and tantrums are pretty rare, though, because she has these communication tools.
She ended her day as she had begun it. She was nursing to sleep in my lap, and her owl figure was on the couch a couple feet away. She signed for the owl. It took her two tries, since it’s a two-handed sign, and her other arm was behind my shoulder, but I understood what she wanted. This time, I anticipated that the owl would be lonely without her elephant friend and got both. My Owl then fell happily asleep looking at her two figurines sitting on my chest.