Stubborn Toddlers & Baby Sign Language

Thank you for the support in regards to my last post. B was throwing some mighty fits for a few days there and since then, it’s decreased a lot.

I figured out the problem. He was sick of his oatmeal. Yes, his oatmeal. Every day for breakfast, B and C were eating 5 scoops each of baby oatmeal, mixed with one ice cube of pureed pears and a few dashes of cinnamon. Apparently, B is done with it. Not only that, but he was starting to associate his orange bowl with the oatmeal.

Those breakfast meltdowns that occurred a few days in a row were because he didn’t want what he had been eating for months. I was confused, because he had insisted I hold him while I made the oatmeal – mixing in the water, stirring it up – and he would even let me give him a taste off the spoon with no complaints. But as soon as I put him in the chair, the meltdown began. I assumed it was the chair, and after my last post, we switched out the high chair tops to the booster seats…and now I know it wasn’t the chair at all. He just didn’t want oatmeal. (We know this because we tried serving it on a plate – no luck. Since then, he won’t touch a bite.)

On the day I couldn’t take it anymore, he also had a one hour meltdown at dinner. No, there was no oatmeal served. However, I put out his orange bowl to put his dinner in – and as soon as he saw it, he started screaming. He even said the word “bowl” a few times, and I thought it meant he wanted it. But he didn’t.

I hadn’t realized how “deep” the issue had gone – he didn’t want oatmeal and he didn’t want the orange bowl because it reminded him of the oatmeal. Now that I’ve figured it out (and B has taken a 2 hour nap for the last three days in a row) – he hasn’t had a single meltdown. The kid was trying to tell me something!

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That said – he’s still extremely stubborn. C would never have a meltdown over a bowl. She’s never had a meltdown, period. And that’s okay – they’re two different children. But man oh man – B knows what he wants. He’s independent and strong-willed: two good qualities that happen to be exhausting for parents.

I have to say that this was a learning experience for me. I learned to start parenting a toddler instead of a baby. I’m much more on my game. I’m trying my best not to be wishy-washy with what B can and can’t do, and my husband and I are on the same page about the little issues, where we weren’t before, which was giving the twins mixed messages. We’re actively parenting now, and I guess we weren’t doing that before. What do we feel comfortable letting B do and not do? Some things don’t bother my husband like they bother me, but he’s great about agreeing to them if he knows it’s something I don’t approve of, and vice versa.

For example – standing on the couch. The couch is pushed up against our big living room window, so sometimes we all look out the window together. But if the TV is on and the twins are looking out the window, they might turn around to watch TV, still standing. My husband and I weren’t being consistent enough with our couch rules – deciding if they could stand on a case-by-case basis. As long as they didn’t jump or move around. Or as long as they didn’t turn around to see the TV. B didn’t understand the rules, and I wasn’t thinking that he was of age to NEED to understand the rules. But he is old enough, so it’s time to be clear.

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The day after the double meltdown, we were looking out the window together, pointing out birds and the snow and cars. They sit up there with us behind them to see better. When we were done, I sat them on the couch. B immediately stood up and moved his foot to the side, staring at me. I said, “You need to sit down now or you’ll be off the couch.” He took another step; looked at me. I picked him up and put him on the ground. He stamped his feet for a second and decided it wasn’t worth it. That was it – he went to play with his toys. This seems so obvious – and we WERE doing this. We just weren’t doing it every time, so B was confused. Now I feel better, and with confidence- we’re on the right track.

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Where I’m going with this post is how we use Baby Sign Language. I can’t say enough good things about it, though I wish the twins knew more signs than they do. The fact is, B didn’t want his oatmeal anymore and he didn’t want his orange bowl, and the only way he could tell me was by saying “bowl” and screaming. I can’t imagine how many more fits he would have if he didn’t have any sign language to use. It has REALLY been handy for these 18 month olds.

We started when the babies were 8 months old. Well, I started. I knew they wouldn’t sign back for a long time, but since they were eating solids and they sat in their high chairs, I would say and sign “more”, “eat”, and “all done”. Again and again and again. As they got used to seeing me do this, they started to smile and laugh, thinking it was a game. I just wanted it to become ingrained in their brains. Those were the only three signs I used for a long time. It was around 12 months or so that B began using his hands to speak to us, and he started on his own. He was obsessed with our ceiling fan and he pointed to it, letting his arm go around and around. That just happens to be the sign for “fan”, so I went with it and incorporated it into the babies’ sign language vocabulary. If you are hoping to do baby sign language, as soon as they start signing just one sign to you, they’re ready for many more signs. They’re in learning mode.

After that, I taught them a few signs that were important to me, such as “water”, “milk”, and “again”, but I also let the twins show me what they wanted signs for, based on their interests. They went through a dog phase, so we taught them the sign for “dog”. We recently taught them the sign for “snow”, because we now have a ton of it and the twins are paying attention. They also learned “please” and “thank you” and use them appropriately all the time.

Before I started this, I was worried about how long it would take them to learn the signs. Honestly, once they start signing, they pick up new ones so quickly. I would show the twins twice, maybe three times and then say, “You do it!” and they would. When they forget (like tonight, they forgot “again”), I just did it two times and they were back on.

One worry that people who have never tried Baby Sign Language have is that it might slow down a child’s verbal vocabulary – as in, they’ll sign instead of talk. That is absolutely NOT the case at all – in fact, it’s the opposite. As long as you are modeling by saying the word with the sign, they’ll do the same. The twins have a great verbal vocabulary of at least 40 words and Baby Sign Language has only enhanced it. I find it amazing when one of them wants something. If their mouths are full, they’ll just sign “please” by itself. If they can talk, they’ll sometimes just say “please”, or sign and say it together. The signs are just another tool in their toolbox to use when they want to express themselves.

Like I said, my only regret is that we (my nanny, my husband and I) haven’t taught them more. Next up on the list (especially for B): “Feeling” signs – “mad”, “happy”, “hungry”, “tired”…etc.

If you’re just starting out, I get all my signs from one source: www.babysignlanguage.com. I would definitely recommend it to anyone!

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4 thoughts on “Stubborn Toddlers & Baby Sign Language

  1. Trisha says:

    Muppet watched the videos “Baby Signing Time” and LOVED them. She started signing at 10 months and now at 17 she knows 20-30 signs. I also think it has improved her vocabulary as she is now starting to speak in addition to signing. I absolutely recommend it to anyone.

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