Infant Mental Health
1001 Critical Days
Little Signers Club Founder, Shelley, explores how baby sign helps your baby, toddler, or two to communicate what they need to feel safe – easily and without tears.
Infant Mental Health; it’s a topic that has more and more awareness around it these days.
You may have heard mention of 1001 Critical Days as well as how we are now beginning to understand how early childhood experiences affect little ones throughout their development.
The 1001 Critical Days are the period between conception and your baby’s second birthday.
This is a time of such rapid growth and what happens during this time really lays the foundations for the future development and well-being of your little one.
Being a parent is hard work; there is always a new stage to consider, a new worry about development milestone to be hit and, of course, the constant wondering whether you are getting it right.
But what if – what if you didn’t need to worry and wonder, quite so much, if you got it right?
Baby signing helps our precious small people with their emotional security and well-being, even before speech.
Not only that, baby sign helps you to establish the very best part of cognitive development – through a deep understanding of each other, trust and tenderness.
It is not a baby or toddlers first instinct to cry.*
It is their last resort for attention and to have, 90% of the time, their immediate and most pressing, needs met. Immediate needs are for food, drink, comfort, sleep, a familiar and safe place which at this stage of their lives is you, you, and, yes, you’ve guessed it, some more you!
When we cry, the stress hormone cortisol rushes into the blood stream. It is a massive stress response (you may have come across flight / fight / freeze, which is the body’s automatic, built-in system designed to protect us from threat or danger).
This stress response and flooding of the body with cortisol has now been linked to depression in later life. And so obviously it makes sense that we would want to minimise these stress responses for our babies as much as possible.
Sophie signs Cuddle
In this little clip, below, you’ll see gorgeous Sophie signing Cuddle.
We don’t know why she was signing but we can take a guess.
Perhaps Sophie needed reassurance?
You can see that she is in a busy cafe environment (which perhaps she doesn’t know well) and that its quite loud with lots of sounds that she will be trying to process. Sophie can’t see everything or everyone who is making a sound either and this can be quite stressful for little ones. If you look carefully at the beginning of the video, the first thing she does is put her hands to her ears.
Perhaps she wanted attention?
Sophie probably knows that signing gets her Mummy’s immediate attention directed towards her. Perhaps Mummy had been chatting to someone else and Sophie wanted to be a part of that?
Perhaps Mummy needed a cuddle?
Our small folk are so observant and they model / copy our mannerisms and behaviour from an early age. If a little one, who is sad or nervous or scared has been met with a cuddle and reassurance, they will seek to do this themselves too. And Sophie can’t get out of her highchair to give Mummy a cuddle so she gets Mummy to come to her.
Regardless of why she signed cuddle, you can see how incredibly connecting this moment is and the understanding between Sophie and her Mummy.
‘For us, knowing what she needed made parenting much easier. Being more responsive to her [because of baby signing] meant we had a child who knew we would listen to anything she needed – and always try to help.
Katherine, baby signing Mama to Alice
But what, what on earth does all of this have to do with baby signing?
Baby signing lets your little one tell you what they need BEFORE they feel the need to tell you how urgent it is, how immediate it is, how much they need you by crying.
This vastly reduces that stress response that they carry around in their small bodies and, more importantly, it helps them to feel secure, with all the right neural pathways connecting and firing.
So what happens instead when we are using baby signing?
Well, your baby is calmer.
And they can communicate clearly what is is that they need to feel safe again.
That might be a cuddle and milk, or a sleep and mummy. But you can immediately respond to the need without worry or wondering if you got it right.
Small children actually become so confident that they are going to have that need responded to that they can then get on with the very very important work of childhood which is play and exploration.
Your baby is completely secure in the knowledge that they are understood, that if they need help they can get it quickly and without distress as well as importantly, knowing that they are seen and that their voice matters.
At the same time as reducing stress for your family, and opening a window, this magical window into the inner world of your baby, baby signing increases, immeasurably, the positive experiences you will have in your family.
It’s through this understanding of each other, laughing and lots of fun, you are establishing the very best part of cognitive development.
Baby signing is a huge, HUGE amount of fun – which is why lots of people do it.
Once you dive in deeper you realise what an absolutely phenomenal tool it is, especially for supporting the emotional development, security and well-being for little ones.
*The Still Face Experiment; Ed Tronik (this comes with a trigger warning and can be upsetting for some people.)
‘Time, with a loved one, in whose company you feel very safe, can give you a wonderful feeling of wellbeing.
Margot Sunderland; What Every Parent Needs to Know