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Diffuse a Temper Tantrum with Signs By Shannon Buckner


Shannon Buckner

It’s 5:00 in the evening and you’re prepping for dinner. Suddenly, your 12 month old shrieks from the next room. By the time you get to her side she’s thrown herself on the floor, flailing her arms and legs. As you calm her down, you are trying to figure out the cause of her distress. Is she hurt? Is she scared? Finally she slows her crying. Hmmm… No help.You look around but instead decide to distract her with a light snack as you return to your dinner prep. Problem solved?

All behavior is a form of communication. What a parent sees as a tantrum, a toddler sees as a way of letting her parents know of a need or a want or an expression of emotion . By incorporating a few simple signs into your daily conversations, you can start to break down the barrier of communication between yourself and your toddler. Using visuals with children, especially toddlers, is vital for effective communication. These visuals can be in the form of pictures, role playing, or in this case, sign language.

The following four signs are ones I’ve used regularly with my own children from a young age. Their addition to our daily routines have diffused countless events before my son or daughter has become overly emotional.
More (Using both hands, gather your fingertips to your thumb and tap your fingers together several times),
All done (Using both hands keeping your hands open with your palms up, twist your wrists turning your palms down),
Help (Close one hand into a fist and place it on your other open palm, raise both hands together),
Please (Place your hand flat against your chest and rub it in a circle)

Toddlers are able to use these 4 signs for almost any need. Please note that the signs you use in your life don’t have to be “By the Book” in terms of official American Sign Language signs. Just pick an easy to follow sign or symbol and use your hands to help visualize the communication to your child, and then do this consistently with your child so they grasp the concept and begin to use it themselves to help them tell what they need or want.

When my 18 month old wants a drink, she regularly stands next to the fridge and signs ‘please’. If we finish playing a game and she wants to play again, she will sign ‘more’. These signs are just a few of thousands you can use. Eventually it can be helpful to teach your toddler the sign for diaper, milk, hurt or ‘ouch’, thirsty, book, sleepy, scared and Mommy and Daddy. Now, imagine the opening situation with the addition of a few important signs. As you approach your screaming toddler she is signing ‘help’. Quickly you ask her, “help with what?” Your toddler leans down and attempts to reach a ball that rolled under the couch. No luck. She sits up and signs ‘help’ again. You reach under the couch and retrieve the ball, returning it to your toddler and going back to finish your dinner prep. Problem solved? Diffusion of Temper Tantrum? Happier Parents? Happier Child? You bet.

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