Until they start talking, babies have a limited amount of communication tools. Unfortunately, the most efficient one in their arsenal is crying, which can stress out you and your baby. Since babies use tears to express everything from hunger to needing a diaper change, figuring out what your preverbal little one actually wants can be frustrating for them and you. That’s where baby sign language can be utilized to bridge the communication gap before your kiddo says their first words.
Even though baby sign language has been around in one form or another since the 1800s thanks to linguist William Dwight Whitney, its recent increase in popularity may make it seem like a fad. However, baby sign language can be a powerful tool for communicating with your little one, as long as you temper your expectations. A quick internet search will turn up all sorts of programs claiming to boost your baby’s IQ or even improve their chances of getting into an Ivy League college. But the truth is, signing should be about improving your baby’s day-to-day life now, not turning them into a tiny genius.
Most importantly, signing can actually be fun for you and your tot, and better yet, it encourages parent-baby bonding. It’s also relatively simple for parents to pick up, because the signs used for preverbal babies aren’t the same as the more complex signs found in ASL (American Sign Language). Instead, the simple hand motions paired with words your baby is most likely to use — think milk, mom, dad, hungry — are easy for you to master, and then teach to your child. It should also be noted signing shouldn’t be used in place of talking to your baby, but rather in conjunction with verbal communication. There haven’t been any studies showing baby sign language delays speech in children, but it’s still important to make sure you’re saying words out loud while signing so your baby learns both the sign and the verbal meaning behind it.
What age should you start teaching baby sign language?
The good news is, it’s never too late to teach your baby to sign. If you’re thinking about signing with your 12-month-old, go for it! As long as you approach sign language as a fun way to connect with your baby, rather than as a chore, the experience should be a positive one for any preverbal tot.
As for when you should ideally start, you can begin showing your baby signs between the ages of 4 to 6 months, but don’t expect instant results. Babies are just beginning to learn how to use their little hands to grasp and hold things at that age, so most likely your baby won’t begin signing back until around the 8-month mark. Until then, focus on teaching signs through repetition. For instance, if you’re teaching the sign for milk (make two fists and then flex your fingers before returning them to the fist position), you should make the sign and say the word out loud, show your baby the bottle, and then give the bottle to them.
Don’t wait for your baby to make the sign back before giving them their milk or toy. Remember, teaching your child to sign is going to take practice and patience. As long you practice the signs with them multiple times each day (ideally at the same time of day like mealtime or playtime), then you’re on the right path.
Which basic baby sign language signs should you start with?
Now that you know when you can teach your baby to sign, it’s time to think about what you should teach them to sign. Thankfully, the internet is full of baby sign language tutorials that are easy to follow. And there are quite a few books on the subject, as well as classes, if that’s something you and your child would enjoy.
Baby sign language is all about keeping things simple, so you won’t be teaching your baby complicated sentences. Instead, you’ll want to pick the words that you and your family use the most when talking to your baby. Some of the most useful signs are for words like milk, hungry, more, yes, no, play, mom, and dad. But if your baby seems to enjoy signing, you can definitely expand their vocabulary even further with signs for animals and even simple phrases like “I love you.”
For instance, if you want to show your baby how to sign “please,” all you need to do is hold your hand flat and then rub it in a circle pattern on your chest. And if you want to get a jumpstart on teaching them to say “thank you,” just touch your fingers to your chin and then pull them away with your palm facing up.
Teaching your baby how to sign is one way to open up a whole new avenue of communication between you and your child. And the best part is, it’s an extremely adaptable language — you may even notice your baby creating their own unique signs for words. If you’re looking for a way to bridge the gap between baby babbling and first words, baby sign language may be right for you and your family.
Is sign language good for babies?
The answer is yes! Not only is this a valuable language for kiddos to learn, but it could even help them express the emotions they don’t have the words for yet. Baby sign language gives kids the opportunity to express frustration, which could prevent crying and tantrums. Remember, when teaching baby how to sign, be verbal. Sign language is not meant to replace oral communication, so make sure you’re talking as you sign, so your child learns to speak in both languages.