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How to Help You Communicate With Your Toddler

Updated on November 25, 2011
Hands Signing More
Hands Signing More

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When you are a parent of a toddler, it can be rather difficult to understand him or her. This can really be rather frustrating for everyone in the family. Have you ever wondered what could help with that?

Hi, I am a parent of a toddler and when he was a baby, my significant other and I started wondering what we could do to help us start two-way communication with him.

That's when we stumbled upon what has proven to be very beneficial for us, and I'd like to share that with you today.

What we discovered was how beneficial sign language for babies and toddlers can be. Now, our son hears very well and his verbal vocabulary continues to grow at an amazing rate; but sign language still helps us communicate with him.

The reason is because when he becomes upset, he refuses to talk. He'll make angry sounds and cry, but he just won't use his words when upset. What has amazed us, however, is that he uses the sign language he has learned when upset. This has really helped us understand him when he's upset because it's a way for all of us to understand each other in order to end his frustrations sooner.

Now, I can't say all toddlers would do this when upset since everyone is unique, but there are other benefits to teaching your little one sign language even if it doesn't work to help calm tantrums:

  • Reduce verbal speech while eating

~ We all want to teach our little ones to not talk while eating. If they need to ask for something, they could sign it to you instead of talk. Toddlers are impatient and instead of heightening the frustration levels, let them know they can ask you now with sign language instead of having to wait until they swallow. Now, I know teaching patience is also important, but why not make meal times easier since signing can be easier (and faster) to teach than the harder concept of patience.

  • Some toddlers (and babies) start using signs before verbal speech

~ We not only learned this in the research that we performed, but we also experienced this with our son. Some of the signs that he started using right away before starting to verbalize them were: more, please, sorry, and (his favorite) milk.

  • Studies have shown that learning sign language when young can help boost IQ scores when older

~ There was a study performed on two different groups. In one group, the babies and toddlers did not learn sign language while the other comparable group of little ones the same age did learn sign language. Those researchers followed the development of those children and when eight years old, they found that those who learned some form of sign language when younger out-performed those who had not learned sign-language on IQ tests.

  • Help communicate while ill

~ As any parent knows, kids get sick. One symptom that our little guy has had a number of times is laryngitis. We already know regular verbal communication is difficult enough for your little one when well, so trying to have two-way communication with a child who has laryngitis is really challenging. What can really help ease that, however, is sign language. I can sure tell you that the sign language communication has been an INCREDIBLE help and I cannot imagine going through that with him without the sign-language knowledge!

How to Learn Sign Language

When we learned about these and other benefits, we started finding ways to teach him (and us) sign language as soon as we could. Primarily, we considered two methods.

One of the learning methods we considered was learning from books; but books can be harder than other methods to draw the attentions of babies and toddlers. That said, they can still be really excellent reference to start introducing yourself to the world of sign-language. Just keep in mind that when considering books, you'll want to look for books that have very good illustrations of how to make the sign. Some books illustrate the hand motions very well, while others miss the mark and leave the reader confused and frustrated.

The learning method we found works really well for us is videos. It is when we discovered the available videos to show our little guy that his interaction with sign-language sky-rocketed! Now, I know that we all want to reduce how much TV our little ones watch; but who can argue with 100% educational TV that will rarely have objectionable material to show? The videos can also be repeatedly replayed to really help your little one learn since so much learning happens through repetition. Plus, after you start learning it, you may be amazed at how relatively easy it is to learn and remember when compared to learning a foreign language (due to engaging more of your brain with physical motions than speech alone). And since you have the capability to learn it faster than your little one, you can get other important tasks completed while the video constantly replays for your little one to learn from!

Our Recommendations

If you are interested in videos, there are a lot of excellent choices out there. That said, I know there are an overwhelming amount of choices and that takes time to sift through. So to help narrow down the choices and save time, I have some recommendations that have worked really well for us. We found these videos particularly helpful since we are new to learning sign language, they show the words along with the signs, and because they are geared towards kids:

These Baby Einstein videos are how we started out.

These videos are very entertaining for your little one. Since they are taught by Marlee Matlin, you are learning from someone who uses sign language as her primary means of communication. If you want videos that keep the attention of both babies and toddlers alike, then these are a really excellent resource for learning sign language. Please note that they also offer a a complete DVD set to keep you entertained and learning for hours! Also remember to check out all of special features that will really help you expand your sign language knowledge!

The second video series we became absolutely hooked on were the Signing Time videos!

After starting with the Baby Einstein series, these videos were a logical, entertaining, and excellent next step. Yes, there are various signs that are repeated from the Baby Einstein videos, but there are a variety of different signs in addition to those to enhance your learning. The special features offer even more value as some show several ways to sign the same phrase or word. Another unique feature is that the presenter uses colored tape on her fingers to help you grasp how to do the sign.

We have also seen the Talking Hands video that really helps beginners grasp the more difficult signs.

The Talking Hands video presents the signs at a slower pace allowing us beginners to grasp the motions that are taking place. Both the Baby Einstein and Signing Time videos do an excellent job of teaching sign language, but the signs can sometimes be hard to grasp at first because of how fast they are presented. Granted, that has its good points because that's a realistic pace for real-world conversational sign-language, but it may take watching some of the harder signs a few times before really understanding how to do the sign. Though this third video (Talking Hands) does slow the process down to allow you to learn the signs, it's just not quite as entertaining as the others I've mentioned above. I personally agree with the 2nd paragraph of the reviewer who posted on on Oct 25th, 2001. That said, it can really help you understand how to do signs on a more step-by-step basis. [Please note there are 2 Talking Hands videos and I am referring to the Consumervision video.]

In closing, we have found that teaching our son sign language has been an excellent choice. It really does bridge that communication gap for us and he started copying the signs the first time we showed him the videos. Plus, it's never too early or too late to start because it can always help you whenever you choose to learn it! So now that you have some excellent resources that I've mentioned and linked to above, why not start today? Happy clicking and please share your experience with this below!

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