Signing with Infants Part 1: A Validation of Partnership


Until this week, Moon signed mostly in imitation. I signed “all done,” and she signed it back. I signed “nurse,” and again she copied. Then, this week, an indication of an impending shift in our communication occurred as we approached her diaper changing area.


Moon signed “diaper.”


Proud mama that I am, I was excited. As any parent would be, I was excited for this point in her development, but it was also something aside from that. In that moment, Moon validated our partnership in a new way. With regular routines, infants are capable of full participation in many, if not most, of their routine care. During diaper changes, infants can partner with their parent by removing their diaper tabs, lifting their legs, and/or taking the wet diaper to the bin. I’ve been the partner in these kinds of interactions many times with children and seen the connection that takes shape.


By signing “diaper” (or at least, Moon’s approximation of the sign), she expressed her understanding of the upcoming sequence. She communicated that she knew what was going to happen next. In essence, she is developing another way to use her voice.


Moon has always had a voice. We are familiar with her sounds. The growl she makes when a large dog comes up for a kiss, the “uh, uh, uh oh” anticipation when food is anywhere within sight but out of reach, and the squeals of excitement when Greysen jumps up and down. We know she is telling us something. Greysen knows some of these sounds. When she tries to nurse from her younger sister and Moon expresses discomfort at Big Sis’ head resting in her lap, Greysen knows her grunts: “Moon says ‘no thank you, Mom.'”


Infancy is a time of rapid change and growth. With each developmental milestone, I am reminded that the person in front of me is simultaneously who is she now, and becoming something more like herself every day.


Twenty years from now, I wonder if I’ll look back and note this one use of sign language as the memorable starting point for what I hope will become a healthy pattern of communication. I know that speaking to one another may not always be as straightforward as it is now and that there will be times where our communications will be wrought with negotiation (I am getting firsthand experience with that in my conversations with Greysen), but I think we are working on a cornerstone of our relationship. And THAT is what I am excited about.


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