Ten Signs You Should Be Using With Your Toddler

by | January 2018 | Communication, Signing, Toddlers

Oh, the breathtaking, exhausting, toddler years.

There are the incredible development leaps that keep us all on our toes.  Then so much to keep up with as little legs find their balance and every discovery – from minibeasts to shadows – is a thing of awe and wonder.

At the same time as little legs speed up, this awe and wonder slow childhood right down. What could be more fascinating than watching a trail of ants as they march across the pavement?  Or watching the scudding clouds, trying to work out what wind is? Or discovering your shadow for the very first time?

Abstract concepts take centre stage for toddlers; colours, emotions, the wind… trying to keep up can feel like being in your very own little hurricane and when your toddler is also pre-verbal, or has limited speech, they can become so very frustrated in trying to be understood so that you, too, can share in their discovery – or help with what they need.

ICAN, the UK’s Children’s Communication Charity, tell us that at 12 months old, little ones will have around 10 words but that MOST of these words will be unclear.

This increases to 50 words at around 18 months old.

And at 2, your small person may have just started putting two words together.

But research shows that children, who are shown how to sign, may have as many as 75 signs that they can use by 9 months old. It’s also not uncommon for signing 2 year olds to have rather longer spoken sentences, which are grammatically correct, because they have learned to put 2 or 3 signs together from a much earlier age.

Here at Little Signers Club we believe that it is this ability to communicate, to have formative language understood, that gives frustrated little ones and their grown-ups a massive headstart in reducing stress, anxiety and getting key needs understood immediately with confidence and clarity.  I really do believe that using sign language with little ones is your ultimate parenting hack – bringing chaos to calm as understanding and connection are restored, quickly and easily.

Libby Hill, Consultant Speech and Language Therapist, tells me ‘the more you know about all the factors involved in making speech sounds, the more you wonder how anyone ever manages it.  Early communication intention is about making choices and making your needs known. We should be observing and celebrating every small development.’ She goes on to say that ‘signing with children gives insight into what is important, why it is important and helps us all to understand what a brilliant achievement early language skills are’.

Regardless of age, signing allows children to be able to clearly express anything that might be upsetting them or provides an utterly remarkable way to understand their world of discovery, exploration and wonder. Signing removes the guesswork of parenting so completely that there is no delay in providing an appropriate response to a little one who may need comfort, something to eat, or to share the delight of blowing dandelion seed heads with you.  In turn, even small children build confidence, self esteem and the most incredible independence.

“Signing removes the guesswork of parenting so completely that there is no delay in providing an appropriate response to a little one who may need comfort, something to eat, or to share the delight of blowing dandelion seed heads with you.”

Whether you are starting out with signing with your toddler or whether you have been babysigning for some time, these are Little Signers Club Top Ten Signs for Toddlers – and why.

  1. Eat
  2. Drink
  3. Bed
  4. Cuddle
  5. Nappy Change or Toilet

These five signs form part of what we consider to be the core signs that any little one can benefit from knowing and the ones that are likely to be a contributing factor for up to 90% of toddler ‘tantrums’ and distress.

At Little Signers Club some of the key research that we use is that of Maslow’s Hierarchy and the insightful work of Margot Sunderland.  Maslow’s Hierarchy maintains that we simply cannot function without our basic needs being met and these basic needs are food, drink, sleep, comfort and excretion.  When little ones have no other way to express these needs, they will cry.  If these needs are ignored or misunderstood, it can escalate to the utmost distress and what is commonly referred to as a ‘tantrum’ rather than being seen for what it is – a missed need and the fear / stress cycle being triggered.

Margot Sunderland, in her book ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’ goes on to state ‘children behave badly when they have an unmet physical need for food or sleep’ which further supports the need for these core, simple signs that have such a profound effect for early communication.

  1. Home

The sign for Home is one that has been shown to help little ones immeasurably. The world is fast paced, relentless with sights and smells and sounds in a sensory soup that can quickly cause overload for children.  By giving toddlers the sign for Home, they are able to let you know, quickly, without tears, that they need to be at home, away from the overload and where they feel safe and secure.   You may not have the ability to go home straight away but you can give reassurance that you have noted their needs, talking to them about what is going to happen. 

  1. Show Me

Quite literally, in my experience, ‘Two Words to Stop Tantrums’ (you may have seen my previous blog about this) So much of the frustration and other big feelings that toddlers feel stem from not having the correct language to communicate what they have seen or heard or want to know about. A toddler’s understanding and ability to grasp concepts is at least 6 months ahead of their ability to communicate, with words, those same concepts.  But signing gives them the bridge between communication and language to provide a rich dialogue; when you say and sign ‘Show Me’ you are indicating your willingness to help, to work through what it is that your little one wants to share with you and supporting new, emerging language.  Your child feels supported, valued and comes to learn that what they have to say matters. 

  1. Help

Babies and toddlers become very frustrated when learning to master new skills; the sign for Help, like Show Me, can help to alleviate a lot of this frustration.  It is good to be mindful of swooping in to help your little one and ask them first if they want or need you to do so. Sometimes it can be the very frustration that they feel that helps fuel those first wobbly steps with determination!

Signing isn’t just for the baby and toddler years – there is longevity far beyond early childhood in using these signs.  A friend comments ‘We still use the help me sign. Not as much as we used to but when M (now 4) is tired and really frustrated and about to explode, this sign slows her right down and helps to calm her considerably.’

9. More

More seems to be the new ‘why’ for many of our toddlers! I talked about it not long ago on our Facebook page and I love knowing that all our Little Signers are so secure in their ability to communicate that they can ask for More of whatever it might be – games, food, bubbles (definitely the bubbles!) – with confidence and clarity. 

  1. Scared 

Lots of big feelings for our small people seem to stem from frustration, but sometimes it can be something more.  Many years ago, when I first started babysigning (13 years ago this year!) we heard the story of a little one who was very upset at bedtime.  His parents couldn’t figure out why and were becoming frustrated and upset themselves.  During one of their classes they all learned the sign for Scared – and the next week at class told of how their little boy had pointed to the clown painted on his bedroom wall and signed, ‘Scared’.  They painted it out immediately and had a much happier bedtime from then onwards.

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