Look who’s talking!
A new book gives parents the skills to have a 'conversation' with their babies
If mum and dad were fluent in baby language, caring for a newborn could be so much easier. Such communication has simply been a parent’s dream - until now.
A baby expert has set down in black and white directions on how parents can understand what a baby is saying and ‘talk’ back to them.
The ‘Blossom Method’ was developed by Vivien Sabel, and the psychotherapist’s book describes in detail exactly how it works.
Essentially, the method teaches parents how to recognise and understand their baby’s non-verbal communication, which is expressed through mouth, lip and tongue shapes (tongue-talking), movements, facial expressions, and sounds.
Sabel, who named the method after her daughter Blossom, insists: “It is possible to hear a baby’s ‘words’ but only if you are ‘listening’.”
Sabel’s book explains how parents can ‘talk’ back to baby, by mirroring expressions and tongue and mouth shapes.
She explains: “Newborns stick out their tongues all the time, in different ways to indicate different things.
“They stick it out in a flaccid, central position when they’re looking for food and they slide their tongue from east to west on their bottom lip when they’re searching for something.”
Sabel encourages parents to mirror such tongue movements if they’re made by their baby, so the child feels their parent knows what they’re trying to say.
“They’ve ‘spoken’ and indicating the same message back shows you can hear them. Then they’ll do it back to you etc and a little dance of achievement is going on.”
Sabel developed the method when having similar ‘conversations’ with her daughter, explaining that she would try her on her breast, or perhaps see if she wanted her nappy changing, and would eventually be able to identify what each signal given by the baby meant the three-step approach:
>> Observing - noticing tongue, lip and mouth movements, facial expressions and body language, and recognising any special needs associated with these movements.
>> Mirroring - Showing baby you’ve heard what they’ve said by copying their expression.
>> Responding - acting on the message baby is giving and thus reassuring him/her that you’ve understood.
As well as identifying when a baby is hungry, thirsty, bored, has wind, is in discomfort, excited etc, the method can also help alert parents to early signs of illness, says Sabel.
This is particularly obvious, she says, when the smell of a baby’s breath changes and may become ‘glue-like’.
Changes in skin tone may also appear but Sabel stresses that using a thermometer is important to check a baby’s temperature.
She studied many babies when putting her method together and says they all speak a similar language - with slight differences, just as there is in verbal communication. A very pointed tongue is a ‘poo tongue’, for example, redness underneath the eyebrow means tiredness or frustration. The baby’s fists may also come up when they’re tired or frustrated.
If a baby’s constipated, their tummy may be taut and their knees may rise up to their chest.
“It’s about taking in the experience of your baby,” she says.
Using the method means baby’s needs are met, she explains, and therefore their need to cry is less.
“Their needs are met before they reach the crying stage.”
She says her daughter rarely cried, which was a “massive indicator” that the method met her needs. She started ‘speaking’ at five months of age. Blossom is now seven.
Sabel points out that another benefit of using the method is bonding. Because the baby feels understood from birth, and has his/her needs met, they feel confident and secure.
She recommends that parents become familiar with the method during pregnancy, although it can still be learned successfully when babies are a few months old, she says.
Many parents will wonder how Sabel could identify this world of communication when many baby experts have failed to spot it. The answer could lie in Sabel’s childhood. Her mum was deaf and didn’t use sign language.
“I’ve come from a non-verbal background and I’ve been brought up with body language.
“It was always a movement or a glance or a flicker of my mum’s eyelids that gave me a message.”
Sabel, a psychotherapist, went on to train as a sign-language interpreter and her book includes a chapter on baby signing.
She adds: “When I had my daughter, I instinctively thought, ‘What is she going to be telling me?’
“Other people wouldn’t necessarily be looking for a baby’s non-verbal communication.
“It’s been around forever,” she adds. “It’s just that nobody had noticed.”