Feelings: Does my baby really understand?

With each child I’ve learned a little more about parenting than I knew before, I guess they refer to that as earning your stripes. Sometimes your first child gets a little more attention just by the sheer one on one interaction they are blessed with and moms often report feeling guilty when they’re just not able to do “everything” with the second baby. I had an epiphany in thinking about this topic of feelings and my experience in signing with all three of my children. What we lack in one-on-one attention with a second or third or more babies we make up for in our rooted knowledge of how to care for our children.

Amberly, my first, was at least a year before I began demonstrating the feeling signs with her. I often took note of all the “things” she was interested in as a baby since I knew that approximately 70% of baby’s first words are nouns. Then, came along Kyle. He had the luxury of seeing signs demonstrated towards him as well as towards Amberly, they’re just 17 months apart so we were still teaching Amberly lots of new signs in Kyle’s first year of life (and then it dwindled because when Kyle started walking he was into everything and I could barely keep up with just taking care of a 2 year old and a 1 year old!). There were times when I’d specifically be showing a sign to Amberly and then take a second to turn and show Kyle as well. On a side note, what was really fun is having Amberly be a little assistant teacher and reinforce the sign for Kyle!

As you might already know two year olds tend to express their feelings in a big way – both the happy and not-so-happy feelings. As they develop, these feelings are new for them and the not recognizing those feelings going on inside are part of what lead to tantrums. Knowing some of this, I would take care in showing Amberly the feelings signs as it helped to identify them for her. What I didn’t expect was that these feelings signs would be equally important to my 10 month old.

Our practice was for my husband and I to take turns each night putting one of the children to sleep. After getting pajamas on and brushing teeth, I would sign and say “I love you” to Amberly. One night as I did this, Kyle held his little hand up in the L shape, waved it back and forth and said his little version of “I love you”! I was so excited to hear and see his ability to connect this feeling with our practice of saying good night. I quickly had him turn to dad and tell him “I love you”. It was so cute. What I did next is what any excited mother would do, turned to my husband and expecting him to read my “look” and coached him to tell Kyle to say “I love you” to me. My eyes had been opened to see that even babies pick up on those feelings and understand them.

This was my cue to start showing Kyle the sign for “nap”. What mom wouldn’t want a little help in that department? He was still taking 2 naps a day so I’d take a second to ask him if he was tired then follow up with signing “nap” and it only took a few days before he was responding! Babies understand far more than we give them credit for, and they will follow instructions in sign but not always use it themselves. That is, until a situation calls for it. Our family came down with a horrible cold, I’m convinced the kids and I ended up with a sinus infection. Life can be a little hairy in any house where everyone is sick. I was doing my best to keep everyone happy and rested. As I held Kyle on my hip while he was crying, I was standing jostling him and doing my best to help Amberly with a toy. Kyle knew I wasn’t getting the point and said out loud “Mama” and when I turned to look at him, he signed NAP! I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t anywhere near his typical morning nap time, but it dawned on me that with his not feeling well and not sleeping well at night that he was tired far earlier. After acknowledging what he said I went straight over to the cd player to put in his lullaby cd, set up on the couch and nursed him off to sleep. It was the best feeling in the world to have him be able to give me a clear message, especially while he was feeling sick and be able to appropriately respond to his needs. Never underestimate the power of communication, it comes up in the times you least expect it.

Have you experienced something similar, whether an epiphany about parenting or being marveled at your baby’s ability to comprehend something even though they are so young? Share your story with me.

Published on: October 05, 2011
About the Author
Photo of Joann Woolley

Joann Woolley is a Master Level Instructor in the Signing Time Academy. ASL is her first language (her mother is deaf) and her first sign was MILK. Both her fluency in ASL and understanding of ASL culture provide an insight to the language that opens the eyes of her students.

Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
No comments yet. Start the conversation!
Add your comment