Teach Your Baby Sign Language: Hurt/Pain, Help, Diaper Change
One of the reasons babies enjoy signing is that it helps them feel good about themselves. They begin to gain a sense of independence. At last they have some control over what’s going on. In this guide, you’ll learn how to teach your baby the signs that he (and you) really need.
The sign for HURT/PAIN is one of the most important signs you can teach your baby. Once he learns this sign, not only will he be able to tell you when he’s in pain, but also where it hurts. Instead of simply crying, your baby will have a valuable tool to help him communicate the source of his pain. He’ll simply make the sign at the place on his body where it hurts. The bad news is that in order to learn the sign for HURT/PAIN, your baby must make the association between the sign and pain itself. Unfortunately, he’ll have many opportunities to learn firsthand when he’s crawling and starting to walk.
It doesn’t matter what word you use: Hurt, Pain, Boo-Boo, and Owie all work fine. Just remember that consistency is essential, so select one and stick with it.
Bring the tips of your index fingers together a few times.
- When your baby has stubbed his toe or bumped his head, give him some cuddles and comfort and, of course, make sure that it’s only a superficial injury. Then while you’re soothing him, make the sign for HURT/PAIN where it hurts. If he injures his knee, for example, make the sign in front of his knee, saying sympathetically, “Did you HURT yourself? Does it HURT? I’m sorry it HURTS.” Remember to stress the word HURT each time, always signing at the point of injury.
- If the injury is outside your baby’s line of vision (e.g., nose or forehead), gently touch or rub the spot where he was hurt and then make the sign for HURT at that same location on your own body. Make sure, of course, that he’s paying attention and not still totally focused on his pain. Repeat this several times, talking to him soothingly. Another alternative is to take him to a mirror so he can see you make the sign at his own nose or forehead. That will help him make a more personal connection.
- Pretend to hurt yourself while your baby is watching. Bump your knee, for example, and then overreact by hopping around, gritting your teeth, while making the sign for HURT at your “injury.” Another time, pretend to walk into a wall and hit your nose. Overdramatize the situation each time, signing and yelling “HURT” as your baby watches from his ringside seat.
- Use a teddy bear as a “crash dummy” and have him injure his head or paw. Then make the sign where he was hurt and top it off with a colorful Band-Aid to reinforce the point.
HELP is another sign you’ll want your baby to learn. Not only will it eliminate a considerable amount of crying and frustration on your baby’s part, but some of your own as well. You won’t have to guess what’s wrong with him when he starts to cry. Is he hungry? Tired? Teething? No, he wants HELP!
Pat your chest with your palms open a few times.
- Look for situations where your child may actually need help; for example, his older brother takes his toy or rattle. He starts to whimper. You come over and ask/sign, “HELP? Do you want HELP?” Then do whatever needs doing to rectify the situation.
- Watch your child at play. If you notice a situation where you think he may need help, go to him and ask/sign, “Do you want Mommy to HELP?” If he indicates in any way that he doesn’t, then back off. Remember, you’re not only trying to teach him sign language, but you also want him to learn independence.
- Because situations where your baby needs help may not occur frequently enough for him to make the necessary association, you need to get creative again with some edu-tainment. Keep the plot simple, remembering that you are playing to an audience of one.
As with HURT/PAIN, it’s important that your baby sees your little HELP vignettes played against different backdrops. You don’t want to bore him with the same storyline week after week, do you? Once again, you will have to sacrifice your dignity for the greater good, but things are improving. At least you won’t have to walk into any walls.
Can a baby really “tell” you when he needs his diaper changed? Yes, if he wants to. With today’s disposable diapers, your baby might not feel uncomfortable or mind being wet or messy. Yet there are babies who abhor the feeling and would be thrilled to have a more efficient way to call for personal valet service.
DIAPER CHANGE is not as essential as the other signs, but because it may benefit your baby, why not give it a try and see what happens?
All fingers except the thumb curl into your palms. Your knuckles rest against each other and pivot in opposite directions.
When you introduce the sign for DIAPER CHANGE, your goal is to get your baby to communicate when he’s uncomfortable and wants you to change his diaper. In order for your baby to make this association, he needs to be aware of the process of having his diaper taken off and on. Your reactions when you actually change his diaper will help to reinforce that awareness.
- When a baby has a wet or soiled diaper, make a big deal about changing it. Because the sign requires two hands, put your baby on a blanket on the floor or some other safe place. Then say/sign, “DIAPER CHANGE? Do you want your DIAPER CHANGED?” Repeat this a few times, making sure you stress the words DIAPER CHANGE as well as the sign.
- Remove your baby’s diaper, all the while saying/signing something like “You really needed a DIAPER CHANGE!” or “A DIAPER CHANGE is my favorite thing to do.”
- Once the diaper is off and your baby is clean, let him go au naturel for a while, enabling him to feel the cool air on his bottom.
- While he is still in the buff, play the “Diaper Game!” Place a diaper behind you or somewhere out of your baby’s sight. Then say/sign, “Where is the DIAPER?” Pretend to look around you while asking the same question. Keep repeating it and signing. Then magically bring the diaper into your baby’s sightline as you enthusiastically say/sign, “Here’s the DIAPER! We found the DIAPER!”
You can also diaper a teddy bear or baby doll to help your baby make the association. In fact, using a “stand-in” (real or otherwise) works well in teaching many of the signs.
For more information on teaching your baby sign language, be sure to check out our Quick Guides Teach Your Baby Sign Language in Two Weeks and Teach Your Baby Sign Language: The First Three Signs. Happy signing!
From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Baby Sign Language, Second Edition, by Diane Ryan