When a Child is Born……
When that little bundle of joy is placed into your arms your life will never be the same. You will experience a love that you have never felt before and such pride knowing you have created the beautiful creature you see before you. However, it isn’t long before you also experience a tiredness you never felt before and a whirlwind of emotions.
New parents juggle so many tasks and face so many decisions. Breastfeeding or bottle feeding? Cloth or disposable nappies? Babywearing? Co-sleeping? There are so many classes you can go to: Baby massage, yoga, swimming, signing and much more. It can be a joy making these decisions, trying new ideas and having new experiences with your baby. Sometimes it can be simply overwhelming!
When I had my youngest child after a gap of ten and half years I felt like I was starting over again. I love my children more than life itself and wanted to be the best mummy in the world. I read every book I could get my hands on and worried about every decision I made in case it had long term detrimental effects on my baby (blame the psychology and social work training!). I wish I had relaxed and spent more time reading my baby than books, many of which gave contradictory advice, immobilising me, rather than empowering me to be the expert on my own child. The book I am actually glad I read was ‘Sign with Your Baby’ by Dr Garcia. ‘Baby signing’ is the concept of using signs to support communication in preverbal children. At that stage it was relatively unheard of in conservative Northern Ireland! I had studied sign language before and decided to try it. This was no doubt one of the best decisions I have ever made.
We started signing with Cara at five months much to the chagrin of my very conservative parents. At five and a half months she did her first signs. When she was twelve months she could use 50-70 signs and could tell us how she felt, if she wanted her nappy changed, if she was hungry or thirsty. At the pre-verbal stage I didn’t have to go through the checklist I used with my older children when they cried: Is he or she hungry? Dirty nappy? Tired? Cara could actually ‘converse’ with us, although those first words came from her hands rather than her lips!
One of the most amazing experiences I had was when Cara was almost 9 months old. I was breast feeding as normal before bed. I had brought some milk in a cup, as I was weaning her off the breast knew she would need more. She was getting quite upset as I was feeding her. I signed 'milk' and she lifted her head and signed 'no milk'! When I lifted her cup she got excited and signed 'milk'. I couldn't believe it so I repeated this several times with the same result! That was the last time I breastfed Cara, as there was indeed 'no milk'. It was amazing that a baby at less than 9 months of age could tell me this so clearly herself. This was also the experience that convinced my sceptical husband that this wasn't just another of my 'fads' that I would lose interest in after a while!
It is well documented that signing supports communication and reduces frustration. The undersold benefit of signing is how it nurtures connectedness between children and their caregivers. It necessitates increased eye contact, enhances communication and reduces frustration. Signing gave us an insight into Cara’s mind and personality. She regularly shared her observations and thoughts, eg, if we were in the garden she signed BIRD TREE to tell me what she had observed. When she was around 9 months I was reading her a story about a giant, expecting her to be a passive observer. Every time I turned the page she signed HAT. I soon realised there was a little tiny mouse hiding behind various objects in each page wearing a HAT. Cara was ‘reading’ her version of the story to me before she could even speak!
A child’s first relationship will have a significant impact on subsequent relationships throughout their lives. Relationships shape brain development, most of which takes place in the first 3 years of life. We cannot underestimate the importance of parent – child connectedness for our children’s health and emotional well being.
My experiences are by far unique. I love watching how the babies we see in Sign2Music classes grow into bright, confident and loving children. I love the amazing stories I hear about how signing has helped communication, bonding and development. I can now say without doubt SIGNING WORKS. And so can many, many parents and carers throughout Northern Ireland, indeed throughout the world!
Deirdre McLaughlin lives in Co Down, Northern Ireland. She is a mum of 3 and the founder of Sign2Music, the only baby signing company to originate in Northern Ireland. Sign2Music facilitates classes for babies and toddlers, parties, workshops and training / sessions in nurseries, schools and preschools throughout Northern Ireland.
Deirdre is a psychology graduate with a Masters in Medical Science and Family Therapy qualifications. She is a qualified Social Worker and has worked in the Youth Justice field for 16 years, currently working job share as a Locality Manager in the Youth Justice Agency NI. She has undertaken BSL sign language training to Level 2.