So today I was reminiscing about when Boom Boom was about 9 months old, and he hit that fantastic stage where he wanted to eat human food but didn’t really know how to communicate. Hence, the huge chocolate cake mess in the cover picture.
And we all know what that leads to.
Food on the floor. Food in the hair. That second helping that goes untouched. Basically, food struggles.
That was when I decided to teach Boom Boom two basic signs: “all done” and “more.”
And you know what? It changed both our lives.
True, food still ends up on the floor. I’m expecting that to happen until my children go off to college. If it stops before that, well then, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.
But these two signs allow your child to communicate wants/needs, and they also allow you to communicate with your child (as in, no more food, or asking if they want more)
The key to teaching these signs is lots of modeling, immediate rewards, and not taking no for an answer.
Modeling is fancy-speak for doing what you want your child to do. In the beginning, you also have to model the reaction/reward for the sign.
So these two signs are super easy.
“All done” looks like jazz hands. You hold your hands up, and shake them.
To make the “more” sign, you make a “lobster claw” and have the fingertips of your two hands touch.
I recommend teaching “all done” first. Motor-wise, it is easier to do, and there are more acceptable variations. For instance, my son usually just flails his arms, but I know what he’s trying to say.
Okay, so here’s what you do:
Wait until your mom (or dad)- sense kicks in and you know your child is done eating.
Make the sign yourself, and ask your child, “All done?”
Repeat. And repeat. And repeat. (lots of modeling, remember?)
If your child doesn’t try to mimic you, grab his hands and help him make the motion, always saying “all done.”
Now, let go of his hands and model it one more time.
If your child makes ANY movement, you give lots of praise and immediately take the food away.
Repeat and repeat and repeat. Every meal, every situation involving food.
If your child still doesn’t do it, once again, put his hands in yours and help him make the sign. Then immediately fulfill the “request.”
It is SO important that you immediately respond to your child’s attempts to sign. It trains a Pavlovian response, and since you are most likely dealing with a very young child, he/she needs that immediate response to pair the cause-and-effect of the sign.
If you don’t know who Pavlov is, let me give you a quick rundown:
Pavlov conducted an experiment with dogs where he would ring a bell and then give the dogs a treat. Eventually the dogs associated the sound of the bell with getting a treat.
That’s the essence of what we’re going for here.
Make the sign, something desired happens.
Don’t Take No for an Answer
Kids are sneaky. And kids are lazy.
Now, before I am tarred and feathered, let me explain.
If you don’t make a child request something, they will use the smallest amount of effort required to get what they want.
It’s just human nature. I, for one, will only do the minimum amount of cleaning that I have to to make my house acceptable. (Ya….that super-detailed spring cleaning list I made two months ago? Buried somewhere on my kitchen fridge).
So it is important to be consistent. Don’t have your child tell you “all done” for breakfast and then just clear his plate automatically for lunch (no matter how close you are to naptime). Remember, you are not just teaching this sign; you are teaching your child that communication is necessary and important.
However, you do have leeway in terms of what you will accept as a sign. I accept any flailing of the hands/arms for “all done”; I accept “more” when Boom Boom moves his hands closer together.
You Can Do It!
Teaching nonverbal children signs is step one in speech therapy world. But I also know that some parents are hesitant to teach sign, fearful that it will impede verbal language development.
This theory has yet to be proven by any study done on the subject.
You could teach your child several signs- you could expand into “help,” “food,” “drink,” etc., and it still wouldn’t impede their verbal language development. If anything, it will help it because (as I wrote in bold earlier), you are teaching your child a)how to learn to communicate, and b)that communication is necessary and important.
So please, give sign a try with your little learners! You may find, like me, that those two basic signs allow for a WHOLE lot of communication!