We taught our children some basic sign language before they could even talk.
They easily learned to give us cues using their hands to communicate how they were feeling by the time they were 6 months old. We didn't teach them much, but the few signs we did teach them could be used to express a multitude of feelings. We taught them four basic signs: more, all done, please and thank you.
Often times my children would sign things that made perfect sense to me
When my first born, Lucia, was about 8 months old, she pulled herself up to the couch where I was sitting with a bowl of ice cream. She put her hand up to her chest and rubbed her chest to say "please".
From her signing "please" I knew she was asking me to give her some of my ice cream. When I didn't share with her right away, she began bending her knees with a little bounce that helped her get up on her tipee-toes, over and over and she then began rubbing her chest almost violently.
She didn't have to scream or cry to get her point across to me. She was able to use her sign language to let me know that she really ,really, really, wanted me to share my ice cream with her. She continued to sign "please" over and over until I finally put a little bite on the spoon and right into her mouth.
She immediately smiled, put her hand to her chin and singed "thank you" which was quickly followed by touching her fingertips from one hand to the other repetitively as she then asked for "more".
Other times my kids would sign something I couldn't identify with and wasn't sure how to respond
We were visiting my dad on Key Biscayne. Although she was only 6 months old, it was not her first trip to the island. I introduced the ocean to her at just weeks old when we made our first trip to my dad's house. I wanted her to love the ocean as much as I did when I was a kid and I never wanted her to be a stranger to the water. So I took her often and frequent.
Each time a wave came I'd hold her up so they'd splash on her chest and back.
But as they splashed some of the salt water would get on her face and she'd squint her eyes shut and pucker her lips.
It didn't take long before she threw her hands up in the air and began to twist her wrists back and forth.
We went back out into the ocean in strides and each time she would hit a point where she would put her hands in the air and flip her wrists and tell us that she was "all done."
Respect the all done
My husband and I jokingly began to use the phrase "respect the all done" everytime my daughter motioned she was ready to get out of water. We have continued to say this phrase hundreds of times over the last 6 years as parents to remind us to listen to our children when they communicate their needs to us, even when we don't understand them.
You see, as a new mother, this was a valuable lesson for me. A lesson that taught me to listen to my children even when their needs for themselves might differ from what I thought they needed.
A lesson that my children's needs are often times different from my own.
A lesson which taught me that my children will communicate to me what their personal needs are based on their personal strengths and weaknesses.
And as their mother my strengths and weaknesses may be different from theirs. A lesson that I need to respect their needs the best I can when they express them to me even when I don't understand.
Because it might be possible that when I listen to their needs and hear them and meet them the best I can I am teaching them that I respect them.
And it is possible that if I respect them I am building up their confidence. And if their confidence is built up, it is possible they will walk through this world full of respect for themselves and for those around them.
My daughter is now 6 year old and I'm still learning to respect her boundaries in order to gain her trust.
On a normal day when I pick my kids up from school, they throw their lunch boxes and backpacks at me in the front seat and they pile in the car. Just picture a clown car where 29 clowns pile into a VW bug, that's what we look like at the pick up line.
And before they are even in their car seats or buckled, all 4 of them, full of excitement from their day at school start to talk at the same time. And with as much speed and volume as an auction announcer they each tell me what fun things they did at school.
And I yelled for silence.
And just like every other school day. I gave permission to one child at a time to talk and tell me about their day. And one at a time they spoke while everyone respectfully listened.
Olivia, my more sensitive child went first. Each day she likes to tell me how she made it through the school day without crying. She has a hard time speaking up and sharing how she feels with her teacher and peers, so I've been teaching her this year that her words are more powerful than her tears. She beamed with pride as she told me how she used her words at PE to tell her PE teacher she was upset she wasn't on her twin brother Lochman's team. Her teacher listened to her and placed her on the same team as her brother. And just as she was about to finish her story...
So I immediately replied, "What happened? Did you get hurt?
And for the first time in my parenting experience I heard these words and they rolled off her tongue as clear as day: "I don't want to tell you."
She no longer uses sign language like she did when she was 6 months old. Now at the age of 6 she speaks her words and her feelings with her voice.
But as I looked back in my review mirror waiting to hear the answer to my question if she got hurt, I made eye contact with her and listened as she spoke the same words again, "I don't want to tell you".
But even though I heard the words come out of her mouth, I envisioned a time before she could talk when she would throw her hands up in the air and rotate her wrists. "I'm all done".
I saw her, with her words, tell me she was all done.
And It took everything I had to respect that.
"A hawk scooped down out of a tree and landed on your head and its force knocked you over and you fell on a stick that got caught on your dress and when you got up your dress tore and you got embarrassed and hid behind a tree to cry."
She joined in the fun and made up silly reasons as to why she might have cried and we all laughed, but the facts and seriousness of the day was that my 6 year old wanted to let me know she cried at school but didn't want to give me any more information then that. She was "all done" sharing.
Because the thing is that now at the age of 6, I can't keep her out of the water.
She spent last summer in the pool and the ocean, upset every time we had to get out of the water to go home. All winter long she has begged me to take her to the covered pools and asked when the neighborhood pool will open again.
She asks me daily if she is finally old enough to be on the swim team and dreams of a day that she can swim with the dolphins.
Her goal in life is to be a dolphin trainer.
It is my hope for my children that in the same way Lucia learned to trust the water by having her boundaries respected, that she and all my children will learn to trust me and others around them with their feelings as they have their personal boundaries respected.