Are you a new parent of an infant who is dreading the terrible twos and wondering how to deal with toddler screaming tantrums? Surprisingly, the key to cutting down on toddler tantrums may lie in communication: health experts consistently report that part of toddlers’ frustration is their lack of spoken language. They want the cookie but cannot get the cookie because they do not know the word: thence spring the tears and tantrums. What baby experts know about toddlers and communication is that introducing your infants and young toddlers to baby sign language could help minimize their frustration.
More than 100 years ago, a linguist named William Dwight Whitney found that hearing children who were born to Deaf parents were signing simple sentences by the age of six months. Some children do communicate earlier than 18 months, but hearing children of Deaf parents routinely began communicating — through sign language — at a markedly earlier age. At the time, growing up with Deaf parents was seen as a social handicap, but Whitney noted that the children’s performance in school “made their hearing peers look slow.”
Whitney also saw that hearing children of Deaf parents were not only signing earlier than their peers, but speaking earlier as well. This is a counterintuitive finding because children of Deaf parents are not exposed to the same amount of speech at home, but Whitney’s studies showed that children of Deaf parents spoke earlier than their peers. He hypothesized that sign language could be taught to hearing infants and toddlers, but his insights were not taken seriously and his findings languished for more than a century.
What educators know now is that baby sign language can work to circumvent the terrible twos. Picky toddler eaters, for example, are common, but what if your child could tell you when they wanted more food? What if your child’s terrible twos behavior was largely based on frustration and anger that they were being asked — or made — to eat food that they did not really care for? One of the first signs that babies are taught in the infant sign language curriculum is the word “more.” Babies who like the food that they are given can make the sign “more” and let their parents know that they’re on the right track. Do you want more or are you finished? Toddler screaming tantrums may be a thing of the past.
Other useful signs are “sleep,” “happy,” and “finish.” You can teach your infant several signs, and you may be surprised when they form their first sentence in sign language — an average of eight to nine months before they utter their first spoken words or sentences. The surprising thing about infant sign is that babies and young toddlers have a lot to say. Toddler screaming tantrums are one thing that you can work to eliminate with baby sign language. Are you fluent in another language? There is Russian sign language, Chinese sign language, and French sign language – any foreign language that you speak is sure to have a signed counterpart. The grammar and vocabulary may differ from American Sign Language, but it’s your choice.
It might be a good idea to teach your infant or toddler American Sign Language, often referred to as ASL, because when they get older they will be able to communicate more easily with their Deaf peers. Toddlers and tantrums may seem to go hand in hand, but allowing young children the opportunity to communicate and to make their wishes known could stop a lot of toddler screaming tantrums before they even start. Raising children can be so difficult that parents wish they could have their own, grown-up tantrums, but taking a few minutes to teach your infant some sign language could have positive consequences for both of you. Help phase out toddler screaming tantrums with a course in sign language: toddlers may respond in ways that surprise you both.