Even the smallest of infants deserves to be treated respectfully; children need time to be able to process and respond to what is going on around them - and yes, even tiny babies can do this if you know what to look for!
'We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.' Magda Gerber, RIE.
Signing used by caregivers helps small children understand what is coming next and helps them to prepare without being taken completely by surprise. Often it is the transition from one activity to another, without warning, that can upset children the most.
Four Tips for Using Signing For Respectful Care
1. Use 'body signing' even with tiny children. This is where you gently touch a little one, giving them prior warning of what is about to happen. For instance, gently touching the head of a baby before you place their vest over their head. You'll then want to place their arms in, so gently touch the arms in the order that you place the arms in the vest. Gently touching one leg and placing a shoe or wellie on that leg. Small children can learn very easily what happens next and become responsive to what is happening, without being taken by surprise. Most children hate having things pulled over their heads without warning and imagine that you yourself were being dressed by someone - you'd like to know what was expected of you instead of being pulled around.
2. Sign (with speech) before you undertake any transitions with children. Their visual processing is much faster than their auditory processing so it makes sense to give them a visual cue.
3. Sign (with speech) before undertaking any intimate activities, such as nappy changing. Again, put yourself in your childs position - would you be calm and happy to comply if your trousers and briefs were yanked down and a cold wet cloth placed between your legs without warning?! Its no small wonder that babies and toddlers resist being changed but by letting them know before you undertake the activity, they can also prepare.
4. Wait. Wait for a response from your child. For very young babies this may be a wonderful smile, a babble, a raising of arms. On the other hand, it may be a turning away of the head, a refusal to meet eye contact or engage. But these are cues that are more eloquent than speech and will enable you to understand your child so much better. These non verbal cues are vital - take the time to observe them. For older babies, it may be signing back and for toddlers and older children, words will also be used. Wait. Watch. Be mindful.
You may also like:
Janet Lansbury - The Magic Parenting Word (as 10 ways to use it)
Magda Gerber - RIE (Resources for Infact Educators)