Discipline without Words


Yesterday was more of a challenge for me as I was tested by sweet Romy.  I’m not completely sure how much she can hear when wearing her hearing aids but I always talk anyway while using my limited signing abilities.  The morning was going great.  It only took me 4 guesses to pull down the game she wanted to play.  If you’re ever wondering what the sign for cherry is, here you go:

Cherry: Make a flat-O hand shape with one hand and extend the index finger of the other hand. Now gently twist your flat-O hand on the tip of the opposite index finger as if you were twisting the stem off the cherry.

She didn’t want to actually play High-Ho Cherry-O.  But the cherries were fun to play with, push around, pick up, put in and pull out of the buckets, etc….  After about 15 minutes of playing around with the little plastic cherries, she went over to the bin labled “Mr. Potato Head/Elmo.”   Check out this super organized play room!  Each bin is labeled and actually contains what it is supposed to!  the kids are under strict orders to only have one bin out at a time.

OK, so in order to maintain this level of organization, we needed to put the cherries away.  I began to pick up and signed for her to help me.

Help: Close your right hand and place it on the palm of your left hand in front of you. Then, lift both hands up together.

In true 4-year-old fashion, she crossed her arms, tucked in her chin and scowled at me, breaking the stare only to look at the bin she wanted and back at me.  Not knowing all of the signs, I nodded my head no and told her she needed to help me first and then we could play with the bin.  Nothing.  I sign what I can and repeat the sentence.  …  Nothing.  OK.  Has she heard me?

Am I communicating clearly enough to move on to consequences?  Its a little tricky.  But I gather from her attitude and knowing that she knows what it means when I pick up toys and sign for her to help.

So I tell her she can *help or *time out (signified by pointing to my arm where a watch should be and raising the pointing hand to an O shape.  I repeat a couple of times, looking at her…still nothing…and then count.  On my fingers of course.

1…2…3…ok.  *time out I sign.  She sits down.

Hmm…Surely she knows what is going on and understands exactly what she is doing.  I walk from the play room toward the time out spot and point.  Then I sign *time out again.  Nothing.

Time to pick her up and put her in time out.  I get her to the spot and walk away and then the fit begins.  Now, with a hearing child, at four years old I have a very clear picture of how to handle this situation.  Not so much when the majority of my signs at this point are food items!

We did eventually resolve it, she calmed down, we picked up the cherries, we played with Mr. Potato Head.  I spoke of it briefly with Romy’s Mom and she assured me I did great.

These moments are a struggle for me.  Not just because I am not proficient in ASL.  Even if I knew it all, how do I really know how much she understands?  She is a very sweet kid but definitely seems to be used to getting her way and not sharing and I wonder how much of her behavior has been allowed because of the communication challenge.

This is a much longer post that I intended it to be, but imagine it.  How would you discipline a child without talking?  With such limited communication?  I don’t want to just know enough sign to get by, and I don’t want Romy to know enough just to get by.  I want her and I to be able to thrive!  At four years old, most little girls I know are chatter boxes!  It saddens me that she is missing out on this both relationally and otherwise.  Just as she would have learned to speak hundreds of words by now, shouldn’t she be able to speak hundreds of signs?  Maybe she can?  This is such a new world for me and I am loving the challenge 🙂


3 responses »

  1. Hey Emily, I’m so excited you’re working with this little gal. Does the family have access to the internet? There’s a GREAT website with some (old, but still fun) cartoons interpreted into sign language, and lots of fun ASL games.

    Click on the “ELF” icon for lots of fun stuff. You can explore the site to find more fun stuff.

    Also, if you go to this link:
    you can find a ton of videos with story books interpreted into ASL

    She might enjoy watching them.
    Let me know if I can support you in any way!

  2. Thanks Becky! I will definitely spend some time looking through these sites! I’m trying so hard to learn sign but its so hard without anyone to sign with. But I’m managing and learning so much! ASL is really wonderful and beautiful and fun! Thanks so much for all your support! I will definitely come to you when I come up against specific questions!

  3. I would also recommend “Signing Times” videos- I used them with eve and dave- and will soon with Kamea. You can check them out at the library I bet. They are awesome- and made for little kids- they pick up on them fast if they are motivated. I have similar struggles with Kamea- in that sometimes I don’t know how much she really gets what I am saying- it is always the hardest when it comes to discipline. I have been doing sign with Kamea ever since we got her and though she does not sign and answer me- I am finally at a point where I can tell if she knows what I am saying and signing- because of my consistency with her and her reactions to what I am signing. I am betting with time you will have a good system down 🙂 What a neat challenge- I am sure you will learn so much.

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