Thursday, December 16, 2010

Communication Breakdown

This question splintered off from the previous one about Michael throwing things, including his bottle.

Q: Michael (16 months) throws things because he gets frustrated that we don't understand him. It's written all over is face. The problem is that he throws his bottle along with his toys, and we can't not give that back to him.

A: [I'm going to respond to the issue of Michael's frustration at not being able to communicate his needs. See the previous post to find out how to handle throwing.]

I recommend that you teach Michael a few basic baby (sign language) signs. "Drink" is just putting your c-shaped hand to your mouth as though you're lifting a cup to take a sip. Here are some instructional videos:

Do it every time you ask him "do you want a drink," or when you give him his bottle and say "here's a drink." He'll pick it up in no time. Then he can tell you when he actually wants his bottle, and the rest of the time you don't have to give it to him after he throws it.

I also recommend teaching him the sign for "all done." Then maybe instead of throwing his food or his bottle, he'll just tell you he's finished and you can take it away. This was the first sign I taught my daughter, Eliana. She picked it up within a week or two, at only 9 months old! I may have a video of Eliana signing "all done," but I'd have to look for it. In the meantime, here are two videos demonstrating the sign ("all done" and "finished" are interchangeable):

Here are some cute videos of children demonstrating the sign for "drink."

As you can see, these children are not mimicking the signs 100% correctly. Some kids are more advanced, more coordinated, or simply older than others, so their signing is more accurate, but that's not important. What's important is that they are communicating, and are able to get what they need without all the frustration and ensuing tantrums (or even pointing and grunting).

Kids are just a LITTLE more advanced than cavemen. (Take that, Harvey Karp.)

[Actually, I love Harvey Karp and think his children-as-cavemen philosophy i brilliant and often spot-on. But the cavemen evolved, and that's what we want our children to do too.]

P.S. I know this is a commercial, but it's a pretty amazing example of how many signs a baby (only 12 months old) can learn!


  1. I liked this article. I think I may actually try it next time round I"YH. I really think that signing could have helped my sister-in-law with her first daughter, whose speech was very unclear for a long time and she used to get very frustrated that no-one could understand her. Now my sister-in-law is learning to sign because she works/voluteers a few hours a week at the school for special ed. here in Kiryat Shmona, and her chanicha is autistic, so signing is the most effective way to communicate with her.

  2. Thanks so much for reading and for commenting, Carly!
    Did you see the video in the next post of my daughter signing?