DrB(@ckbridgett) met MarcieMom (@MarcieMom) through Twitter, and then agreed to doing a guest blog called "Friday Feature - Eczema Q&A with DrB" on her great website eczemablues.com
Here MarcieMom talks to DrB about her use of sign language - signing - as a tactic to help her daughter Marcie reduce scratching, without having to say "Stop Scratching" all the time : such a great new idea when using The Combined Approach for the very young with atopic eczema.
DrB: First lets talk about Marcie and how she started with eczema
MM: Marcie started having rashes at two weeks old and was diagnosed with eczema at her one-month checkup. Taking care of her was stressful, too much for me to go into the details but suffice to say that I quit my job, stayed home to take care of her and every month or two we faced a new challenge - from switching to partially hydrolyzed milk, to colic, to starting to scratch at 3 month old when other babies probably didn't know how to use their fingers!
DrB: Please tell us about signing with babies, and how you started using it
MM: Signing with babies has been gaining acceptance and getting popular in preschools, as more studies have shown that babies who sign have a larger vocabulary and display less frustration, and get greater bonding with their caregiver. Did I know these benefits and intentionally teach my baby girl, Marcie, sign language? No, I simply borrowed a few DVDs from the library because I was feeling guilty letting her watch my TV programmes, and the baby signing DVDs captivated her.
DrB: This is something that you discovered?
MM: Yes. Being a stay-at-home mom, alone during the day, I started watching TV when carrying Marcie. Knowing that TV was not recommended for babies, I decided to borrow some DVDs appropriate for her age. Marcie was turning four month-old and strangely, she stopped scratching whenever the baby signing DVD was on, but seemed agitated or remained indifferent when other DVDs were played.
DrB: Are there signing DVDs that were favorites?
MM: Marcie's favorite baby signing DVDs were Baby Signing Time and Baby Einstein's My First Signs. By about 6 month old, Marcie started signing back with signs such as "More", "Milk", "Cat", "Dog" and "Bird". What we found immensely useful about learning sign language was that whenever she scratched (especially before bedtime), we could distract her by asking her how to sign certain animals, like "Mouse", "Monkey" or "Bird". Most of the time it worked, as Marcie would respond by doing the sign and soon forgot about scratching. We would usually incorporate signing into bedtime stories by borrowing books which we knew she could sign, such as animal books.
DrB: And then you wrote a book too?
MM: Yes. It's from this experience that I created "A to Z Animals are not Scratching!", a children picture book that encourages the child not to scratch because each animal facing a different situation (such as hot weather) is not scratching, but does something else!
DrB: So lets get back to the benefits of signing with babies and toddlers: what can you tell us?
MM: You won't find distracting a child from scratching listed as a benefit of signing, but from my interview with Laura Berg, founder of My Smart Hands, an international company of about 200 instructors that educates young minds using sign language, signing has helped reduce the number of tantrums.
There are many other benefits of signing with children, including
improved ability to communicate with the caregiver, thus reducing frustration and increasing bonding and self-confidence of the child
increased vocabulary, as signing is a multi-sensory approach that helps the child to remember better
aiding speech development, rather than delaying it, and of course
sign language is a recognized second language. It's one in which a child can go on to use to communicate with people around the world!
DrB: And it helps distract a child from scratching!
MM: Yes. It's a fun way of avoiding saying "Stop Scratching!", something parents often find themselves saying to their child with eczema. However, asking your child to stop doing something is less effective than rewarding him/her for not doing it. Also, it can annoy and upset your child when they keep being told, even shouted at to stop doing something that they can't control. I always prefer distracting my baby from scratching, and signing with her is a fun way to do it. It's also practising language skills. So much better than using snacking as a distraction, or watching TV!