Here’s where so many families stop signing. Maybe the kids are talking more, maybe they even drop some of their previous signs because they can say those words now. But wait!!!! Don’t give up now!! This is just where it gets even more important, and definitely more interesting. Now, you’re in the thick of it. They aren’t just walking now, they are full out running – with their legs and their minds. These energetic beings, have stronger wills to match their stronger bodies, and you have a lot to contend with.
Research has shown that temper tantrums occur less often in kids who can express themselves with sign language. After all, they have a way to get across what they want without grunting and you guessing – likely wrongly. This is the perfect age to nip in the bud any kind of need to act out that’s based on misunderstandings. Naturally, they’re kids; and they will have times when they melt down. But many screaming fits or temper tantrums happen because a child feels powerless. The more they have within their control, the better. All of the cookies may not be negotiable, but general communication can be theirs through ASL.
It’s my opinion that children who have American Sign Language as part of their tool set, find early openings to more abstract thinking. My baby, who at 18 months old, took a couple bites of his toast and then, staring thoughtfully at it, signed the word “bus,” was telling me the shape reminded him of a bus. Whether or not you want to believe that signing led him to discover that a piece of toast could look like a bus, you will at least admit that a child who has this notion can, thanks to ASL, communicate the concept. What a far cry from “eat,” “milk,” and “more.” If your child were thinking in metaphor, wouldn’t you want to know?
Even if they begin to let go of some of their signs as they learn to say the words, it is not a cue for you to stop signing to them. There are more signs to come. And they will very often go back to their signing when they are stressed or tired. You may also notice that they are choosing the words that they still need in sign – my son loves to sign the words for “too” and “ready” – for whatever reason, these things feel right expressed with his hands. It could be just how he experiences or accesses what he knows, like many bilingual people living in a culturally dominant language, while using another at home, who “code-switch” – go back and forth between the languages they know. I suspect, with these particular signs, it could also be a means to emphasis.
A too common misconception is that signing can delay speech. It is simply not the case. My son who was signed to since before he could sit up, began talking in full sentences before he was two. Signing is an invaluable tool for kids who don’t talk early, however, and for all kids as they begin to talk but don’t pronounce things clearly or understandably. Are they saying “toy” or “toe?” “Duck” or “truck (version 1; version 2)?” There is an easy way to know if they have the ability to sign it to you.