Twinfant Tuesday: Baby Sign Helps with Early Communication

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Categories Books, Development, Language, Products, Talking to Kids, Twinfant TuesdayTags , , , , 28 Comments

I’m a huge fan of using Baby Sign, or modified sign language, to help babies communicate with you successfully before they can speak. For us, it reduced the frustrated you-don’t-understand-what-I-want crying by about 80%.

babysignMy daughters, M and J, started using single signs to communicate their needs at the age of 7 months, so my recommendation is to start sign at birth, to get the parents into the habit, if nothing else. I honestly think any time before school-age is fine to start signing. I didn’t get around to it until age 5 months.

Why sign?

It makes life easier!

Infants are ready to communicate well before they have enough control over their vocal tract to produce words. I think most parents have been surprised to discover how much language babies can understand well before they begin to speak. Using Baby Sign allows extremely young children to communicate their needs in a way the adults around them can understand and respond to, cutting down on crying and frustration. There are some studies that indicate that infants exposed to Baby Sign have higher IQs than control subjects, speak earlier, and have larger vocabularies. However, it may simply be that the kind of parents who adopt Baby Sign are the kind who read more to their kids and consistently encourage language development in other ways too.

Do I need to know Sign Language?

No. American Sign Language (ASL) is a fully fledged language that uses hand gestures and facial expressions in the same way that English uses vowels, consonants and intonation. Baby Sign consists of some words from ASL without any of its grammar, and you’ll only learn these words. Unless you expose your child to ASL, your Baby Signing child will not be learning to communicate with the American or Canadian Deaf community in any meaningful way. I presume that there are other Baby Sign systems derived from the sign languages of other parts of the world, but I know nothing about them.

BabySignHow do I start?

Make a squeezing gesture with one fist for "milk."
“Milk”

Starting Baby Sign is easy.

Pick one or two signs to learn, and use them consistently whenever you (or other caregivers) say the word. “Milk,” “eat/food”, “drink” and “more” are great starter words.

You can add more words once your child starts signing back. It’s never too early, and never too late. The benefits are most tangible before your child starts speaking, or when they have a very small vocabulary. You don’t even have to use signs from ASL or Baby Sign books. Make something up and use it consistently within your family. As long as you’re consistent, your child will learn the sign.

It may be a couple of months before you see your child make a sign. Don’t give up! Remember that they’re hearing English for nearly a year before they say a word. Once they are about a year old, they will probably consider it a game to learn new signs.

Show me the signs!

I had a leg up because I took ASL classes in college and grad school and had Deaf friends, but I’ve found a number of resources other people have found helpful.

  • Baby Einstein’s My First Signs DVD. My girls continued to pick up new signs from it through age two even though they already had English, Bengali or Spanish words for them. Of course, M and J’s signs looked nothing like the ones modeled on the DVD, but their daycare teacher and I understood them, as did Sissy, which is what mattered. Plus, they just loved the DVD and fell over laughing at some of the puppet shows.
  • Sign with your Baby by Joseph Garcia. It takes a little work to learn the code used in the glossary of signs, but it’s got a great how-to on introducing new signs, combining signs, and just keeping it up.
  • Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. It’s a longer book, but the glossary is very accessible and pretty extensive. It’s good for arming yourself with information about why Baby Sign is beneficial if you’ve got any nay-sayers who need convincing.
  • Baby Signing for Dummies by Jennifer Watson. This is an easy read, with great illustrations of 150 basic signs, which is more than most families need.
  • A helpful website is http://www.babies-and-sign-language.com/. This site has a great video dictionary as well as pointers on getting started and a discussion of how Baby Sign differs from American Sign Language.
  • http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/pages-layout/concepts.htm is a list of 100 common signs. Each link takes you to an active demonstration of the sign. The site belongs to a professor of ASL.

In case it’s relevant to someone, here’s the vocabulary list I used:
We started at 5 months with:

At 6 months we added:

By 12 months:

  • Baby
  • Share
  • Mommy
  • Daddy
  • Cold
  • Cereal (M used this one for the first time after she’d been saying the English “cereal” for 4 months! I think it was because Daddy was home from Iraq for a couple of weeks and didn’t understand her, and she was hoping he’d get the sign.)
  • Cookie
  • Drink (J used to think this one was funny and started giggling every time she used it. I have no idea why.)
  • Gentle
  • Play
  • Where is it?/Where’d it go. (My girls always said “Go?” when they used this one)
  • Sleep

In the video below, M and J are 16 months old. No, they still haven’t learned how to sit still at home. These days, they have to save up that effort for school. Note that even while the girls are signing “Baby” at my request, J uses her sign for “Gentle” to tell me what she knows about babies.

What do you think of Baby Sign? Did it work for you? Would you consider trying it out?

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Foodie Friday: A Healthy Debate

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Categories Books, Feeding Older Children, Foodie Fridays, Health, Mommy Issues, PerspectiveTags , , , , 3 Comments

DDSeinfeldDo you ever cook dishes in which you hide nutritious ingredients that your family would usually refuse? Many home cooks have been doing this for decades, but Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious shows how mainstream it’s become to sneak fruits and vegetables into our children’s food.

SaraBeth’s Perspective

My husband is a picky eater.  I resigned myself to the fact that I’d need to get him eating better before we had children so he could set an example.  I see “sneaking in” some standard vegetables to be a great way to make a comfort food favourite into something with a little more nutritional punch.

I bought the Deceptively Delicious book for my sister at Christmas a number of years ago for her eldest daughter who lived on a beige diet of bread, chicken fingers and milk.  I decided to adopt some of the ideas for us adults to get us into the habit of getting a little more nutrition without sacrificing the flavor.

After reading Deceptively Delicious myself I started using some of the fundamentals of the book to get us eating a little bit better.  I’d routinely add spinach to casseroles, stews, sauces, eggs, I’d add a cup or two of bananas or blueberries to my muffins or pancakes or I’d make soups that pack a lot of blended vegetables to get us eating a little more green.  I sometimes even try some desserts that focus on fruits more, but would make those anyway because they taste so good.

When the minions were born my husband and I had a big talk about integrating food in a way that would get them exposed to a variety of different dishes, spices and so on.  Luckily both of our kids are good eaters, my daughter has a bit more of an adventurous palette with a penchant for spicy hummus, dill pickles and curries.  My son is a bit more meat and potatoes guy but still regularly chooses sliced vegetables and fruits for his meals.

Sometimes we need a bit of help reaching our fruit and vegetable quota for the day, parents and children included.  I think that adding fruits and vegetables into certain dishes has become more of a healthy recipe revolution than a sneak attack.  Then again I haven’t resorted to dehydrated kale chips or mixing spinach into chocolate shakes just yet, but I know that my children and their tastes change every day, so never say never.

Sadia’s Perspective

It took becoming a parent for me to realize that I wasn’t the expert on child-rearing I had always fancied myself to be. One of my most humbling realizations is that my M is an enormously picky child when it comes to food. Despite her willingness to try all sorts of things when we was a young toddler, she is picky, picky, picky today. I walked my talk and exposed my daughters to all sorts of flavours and textures when they were younger. Still, M has turned out to be difficult to feed.

I worried about M’s nutrition. Every time she refused a meal, I pictured her sliding even farther away from the growth chart than she was already. I decided to jump on the hidden food bandwagon. I hid pureed beans in muffins to give her a protein kick. I made my own ketchup from tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and pureed whatever-vegetable-I-had-on-hand. I hid cauliflower in macaroni and cheese only to discover one day that M suddenly hated mac and cheese, with or without cauliflower.

It was during a regular review of my parenting priorities that I began to realize that hiding nutrients wasn’t for us. My first life priority is the girls’ immediate well-being, and hiding sneaky recipes accomplished that. My second priority is their long-term well-being. I realized that by hiding the good food I was providing my daughters, I was standing in the way of their learning how to make good food decisions. I decided that teaching J and M good decision-making was more important than their food intake on any given day. For a while, I tried sneaking vegetables into the girls’ meals and also offering them what I wished they would eat. Before long, I got rid of all my sneaky recipes, and I haven’t looked back.

On occasion, J or M will refuse to eat the meal I’ve prepared. Instead of getting all flustered, I have the ungrateful picky child prepare a meal for herself. Lunch and dinner at our house must include a grain, a protein and a fruit or vegetable. A tortilla, a fistful of cashews and some apple slices? Sure. Cheerios, deli meats and carrots? Why not? Cinnamon toast, refried beans and mandarin oranges? Whatever, honey. I’m not seeking elegance, just nutrition.

The takeaway

Sneaking ingredients that your family wouldn’t eat into food that your family will eat is a great tool, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re struggling to get your children to eat a balanced diet, it may be worth a shot. Check out some ideas.

What do you think about “sneaky” recipes?

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Baby Sleep Books: A Review

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Categories Books, Infants, Napping, Overnight, Products, Routines, SleepTags , , , 2 Comments

This post has been put on hold for quite a while. First, it was because I was in the depths of sleep training hell, then when that got better I was waiting to finish up several chapters, and after that, well… I guess I just started to feel like I was writing a book report for school or something. But though I know these books have already been reviewed in the archives of HDYDI, I think the insight I’ve gained from them may possibly help some new MoMs. So here we go:

Weissbluth

Image.ashx

This is the book I started with, because it is more specific to twins, and I just needed a refresher since I already read a friend’s copy before the babies were born. It’s a very easy read, comprised of extremely intuitive advice that completely makes sense to me. I think it helped validate exactly how I’ve always felt about sleep for babies. There are a couple chapters in the beginning regarding his research and theories that are very interesting. If you’re looking for a quick fix for a common problem (e.g. how to create a schedule for both babies, how to stop bedtime crying, etc.), this is probably a good book to start with. The best gem of this book: “Sleep begets sleep.”

Pantley

no_cry_sleep

I bought this one because I wanted to get a perspective that wasn’t “cry it out” related. This book is geared towards parents who are opposed to letting their babies cry themselves to sleep. I was never really one of those parents, even with my first singleton, but now that I have two more babies, Pantley’s strategies really wouldn’t work for me. This book requires creating some pretty extensive sleep logs and QUITE a bit a patience. By that I mean, probably no one desperate for sleep would be able to hang in there for what may take weeks, if not months. But if the sound of your child crying is making you miserable, or if your baby requires a slower approach, you might want to give this a try. It really is a much gentler way.

Ferber

ferberbook

This is by far the most comprehensive book of the three. It includes very detailed information about sleep and virtually every sleep disorder there can be. Definitely some interesting reading in the later chapters (head banging, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, etc.), but you really only need to read half of Part II and Part III (Chapters 4-6, 9-12). Ferber is known for “cry it out”, but in his book it’s called “progressive waiting”, and I don’t find it particularly harsh at all. In fact, this method is probably the one that works the best and quickest. It’s written in a case study format, with some great charts for reference. There are also some great instructions for shifting nap schedules. I think this is the one I will come back to if I run into trouble transitioning my babies to new schedules in the future.

 …………….

So, while going insane with my babies not on any kind of feed/sleep schedule, I scoured the internet and bought these 3 books after reading some Amazon reviews. I believe they pretty decently represent the different schools of thought that are out there (except Sears’ attachment parenting, which I am not interested in). A word of warning: Most of the content of these books can be found on the internet, often even verbatim. I’m sure it’s copyright infringement, as the text is not quoted or cited. I probably could have read enough online to piece together what I needed, but the books definitely lay it out nicer and I feel better that I didn’t “steal”. Ultimately I cobbled together a bit from here and there. I don’t really even know what came from where because I took what made sense to me from different sources and internalized them. I think once you read enough you just start to allow your instincts take over.

The other thing I’ve noticed that really helped with my babies was when became able to find their own sleep positions around 4 or 5 months. Both my babies are stomach sleepers. More often than not, they will find a comfortable position face down sucking on a blanket (Baby Girl), or the two forefingers of his left hand (Baby Boy). And for those of you following my sleep training journey, she’s been good through morning for well over a month now. And they do sleep day/night in side-by-side cribs in the same bedroom. We’ve come a long way from these days. Fellow new MoMs, there is hope!

lunchldyd is mom to 6mo b/g twins and their 3yo big sis, happy to take compliments on her now-well-sleeping twins.

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Goodbye, Timeout for Two

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Categories Behavior, Books, Discipline, How Do The Moms Do It, Parenting, Parenting TwinsTags , , , , , , 3 Comments
seated kid
Photo Credit: Frodrig

After over 6 years of effective use, I am retiring timeout as a discipline tool. At age 7, it’s more humiliating for my oh-so-grownup children than it’s worth, and it’s hardly effective. Thanks to my daughters’ relatively mature ability to understand causes and effect and long term consequences, I have many more nuanced discipline approaches at my disposal. I need punishments and rewards to fit the crime rather than the one size fits all gem that was timeout. My 7-year-olds are old enough to understand delayed consequences, something a much younger child just isn’t capable of.

I suspect that every reader of How Do You Do It? is familiar with how to use timeout to discipline young children, but I’ll spell it out just in case. Timeout is, essentially, using a brief withdrawal of parental or child-giver attention as a consequence of undesired behaviour. Most parents I know have a specific location designated for timeout, and the child has to remain there for the duration of the punishment, essentially ignored by everyone. Some parents have their child sit on the bottom step of a staircase or have a timeout seat. I went for the convenience of a washcloth placed on the floor next to a wall. It was portable, and my daughters knew that they were expected to sit on the washcloth. Best of all, on the rare occasion that they both needed to go to timeout, I could just put washcloths next to opposite walls, and I instantly had 2 timeout locations that lacked the distraction of Sissy.

Hit your twin? Mommy won’t hit back; that would just teach that violence is acceptable in the home. Instead, for a few minutes (1 minute per year of age, starting around age 1), Mommy won’t make eye contact with the child or speak to him. That’s the real punishment. Children crave and need attention. It’s pretty counterintuitive to ignore them when they’re kicking, screaming and being all around obnoxious. It takes a thick skin to do that in public, knowing that you’re being judged by people who don’t know what children are really like. The long term payoff of rewarding good constructive behaviour with attention and withdrawing it for bad is worth it, though.

It’s ideal, of course, if the child stays in the timeout location of her own accord. That idea didn’t stick until my kids were convinced, around age 2, that no amount of screaming or running out of timeout was going to get me to back down and give them my attention.

I recently had the opportunity to care for my then-2-year-old nephew. I was only there for a week and timeouts had not been a consistent part of his life. It didn’t take long for him to get it, though. The first three days, I’d sit him in his timeout seat and wait for him to start to climb out of it. Silently, and without eye contact, I’d lift him up and sit him back in the chair. Over his 120 seconds of punishment, I’ve had to reseat him up to 35 times. From day 4, on, though, he got it. He stopped trying to fight it. At the end of his 2 minutes, I’d pick him up, kiss him, tell him I love him, and remind him of the behaviour that had earned him a timeout and ask him to do the opposite in the future.

The popular book 1-2-3 Magic offers an effective and simple methodology that hinges on timeout. I didn’t read the book until I needed to help a friend struggling with managing her young kids. Consistency didn’t come naturally to her, and the book gave her encouragement when she needed it. My then-husband and I didn’t get much from the book, primarily because we were unknowingly already practicing its teachings: Use timeout consistently.

Some parents vary the length of time spent in timeout in accordance with the gravity of the offense. A second or third offense may also get a longer punishment. We didn’t take that approach. The beauty of timeout is that it’s super-flexible, which helps explain its ubiquity.

The other day, I found myself in the odd position of needing to distil my parenting approach into a bulleted list. It came down to this: be consistent, reward good choices, and maintain a focus on the adults your children will become. For me, timeout was a big part of consistency and the other side of rewarding good behaviour. I hope that the core understanding that actions have consequences has set my kids up for success throughout their lives. It’s certainly been working well for them so far.

Do you use timeout as a discipline approach? What variations work for you? How do you handle your kids’ escape plots?

 

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