Monday, March 30, 2015

Parenthood – Week 95: Learning To Say “I Love You”

In the past week Ollie has begun saying “I love you,” to Diana and I before going to bed. For the word “I” he points to himself, on the word “love” Ollie gives himself a hug and finally on “you” he points outward to us. He’s even starting to understand these words as a phrase and with some prompting will say “I love mom,” or “I love Bup.”

While Diana and I were intrigued by baby sign language, we didn’t follow a structured curriculum. We taught him a handful of signs like “all-done,” “more,” “read book” and “nurse.” Some of these signs he picked up almost instantly like “read book” and others like “thank you,” he is only now starting to do after weeks of demonstration and teaching.

The basic concept of teaching signs is that you as the parent use the signs yourself, and your child will mimic you. Cause and effect relationships help infants pick up some words faster. Ollie learned that by signing “please” he would get what he wanted and that Diana and me would respond to him more joyfully when he asks for something more politely.

The thing to keep in mind is that as with anything you teach anyone, an infant all the way up to an adult, sometimes the process can take a long time with little noticeable improvement. This was the case with teaching Ollie the sign for “I love you.”

One of the first phrases Ollie heard after he was born was “I love you,” and he has heard this phrase every day of his life, multiple times a day, but he never tried to mimic Diana and I when we spoke this phrase to him.

A couple months ago, I looked up the baby sign for “I love you,” and began teaching it to Ollie. Every couple days, I would show him the sign and help him make the gestures. He got the pointing to himself for “I” pretty quickly, but he couldn’t get his arms to hug himself so instead he put his arms over his head. This was close enough and a couple weeks he got the “you” part down as well.

The next stage was when Ollie could consistently making the signs when I did them along with them. He was inconsistent in speaking the phrase, but he got better and better at signing along with me when I said, “I love you."  This wasn’t something that we could really sit down and work on for any extended period of time, but rather it was an activity we did when he was in the right mind frame to do some learning.

Then something started to click this past week. Instead of putting him arms over his head for “love,” he figured out how to hug himself. He began to voluntarily say and sign this phrase without prompting.  And now saying “I love you” to all of the members of our family has become part of his bedtime routine.  Slowly his pronunciation is also improving with the word "love" sounding less like his previous attempts which sounded more like "buff."

Does Ollie understand the meaning of the phrase "I love you"?  At first, I don't think he had any clue, but now in his own way, he is finding that he receives joy and affection back every time he signs and speaks "I love you," which creates a foundation for the understanding of love.

One of the main reasons to teach infants and toddler signs is to empower them and give them tools to better interact with their environment.  In this process we need to remember that the most important things we learn how to communicate are our emotions to other human beings.  

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