Guest Author - Terrie Lynn Bittner
When my children were small, I could settle them down in Sacrament Meeting without saying a word. Long before it became fashionable, I taught my children some simple signs that helped them remember how to behave in Sacrament Meeting. Being able to tap their shoulder and quietly sign a single word was much nicer than having to lean over and whisper a scolding. It was gentler, and more discreet, since I could sign below the bench back.
Today, there are many resources for teaching young children to sign. Children can sign a few months before they can speak, and being able to communicate their needs with you eases their stress and frustration. Some children who are late to speak discover language and begin talking when they learn to sign, and it’s often used with children who have special needs that delay their speech.
For church members, however, one benefit of teaching your children to sign is that you can discipline discreetly. A simple word reminds your child how to behave. You can also teach him to ask to go to the restroom, so you don’t face the embarrassment of having him call it out in a moment of silence.
The most important signs to start with, from a discipline standpoint, are: sit, quiet, stop, restroom, later, and some sort of compliment when you notice your children are behaving well. Depending on your needs, you might also teach, “Don’t touch,” (perhaps adding “your sister” or “your brother.” “Don’t wiggle.” “Feet down.” Teach the sign for Jesus, pointing out the sign represents the nail prints in his hands, to remind them to sit quietly and think about Jesus.
To teach these signs to your children, play games at home. Teach one sign, and don’t move on until they’ve mastered both signing and reading the sign. Slowly demonstrate the signs, reversing the direction, since it’s hard for children to reverse. In other words, sign so it looks right to them—use your left hand if you want them to use their right hand, and move to the left if you want them to move right. When you’re teaching them to read the sign, do it correctly. Spend just a few minutes on this each day.
When your children have mastered a few signs, play games to review them. For instance, you might teach sit and stand. Sign commands and have your children obey. Giggling makes this a game. To do these games, you’ll need to teach the opposites as well, even though, for example, it’s unlikely you’ll ever command your children to be noisy.
Check the related links for a sign language site online.