Have you ever wished your baby could talk? I certainly have. It’s during those moments when she’s crying hysterically but has refused milk and food, she’s just woken up from a two hour nap so she’s clearly not tired and has no temperature or visible ills. She’s clearly upset but you have no idea what to do. If only she could tell you what was wrong! Well, maybe with a little effort, she can.
I’d known about baby sign language for a while but dismissed it as too much effort for too little return until I saw it in action. I was visiting my neighbor and she was telling me how baby sign had changed her life. I was listening with half an ear when little Reece crawled over to her. Reece is 13 months old, so he’s still quite far away from talking. I was amazed as he crawled over to her and started making hand movements that clearly meant something. She explained that he was making the sign for ‘food’, and she gave him some of the piece of apple she was eating. He started gnawing away happily and I was speechless. It was all so easy! Later, he’s distressed, flapping his hands around at hip level. “Oh, I’d better go change him” she says. She explained that Reece was making the sign for ‘nappy’, which is done by putting your index and middle fingers together, then tapping them on your thumbs at waist height.
After that, I was hooked. As I watched my neighbor interacting with her little boy it made total sense.
The benefits of baby sign language
There are lots of benefits to using baby sign language. As well as being practical and useful, it makes communicating with your child much easier and less stressful. Using signs together creates a lovely bond between you and your baby, and understanding each other better makes you feel more tuned in. It is also wonderful cognitive exercise for your baby’s brain development.
There has been significant research into the benefits of using baby sign. A study by the National Institute of Health found that children who had signed as babies showed IQs at age 8 that were 12 points higher than children who hadn’t signed as babies.
Tips and tricks
Some signs can be slightly different depending on the system you use. Whatever signs you use, the key thing is to keep them absolutely consistent. General recommendations are to teach a baby one new sign a week, and to begin when they’re about 6 months old.
The most important thing to keep in mind when teaching your baby sign language is to make sure it’s a fun bonding activity for both of you. Patiently repeat the signs again and again – it might be a while before you see any response but believe me it will be worth it! When you do see your baby understanding and attempting to use the signs, be encouraging and praise effort. Once one sign has been mastered, go on to expand your baby’s sign vocabulary.
Babies love eating, so starting off with some signs associated with food is a good idea. The sign for milk is a squeezed fist. The sign for ‘eat’ is quite self-explanatory; just mime holding a piece of toast and putting it into your mouth for a bite.
The sign for ‘more’ is tapping your fingers together. This is a really useful sign.
The “all done’ sign is made by twisting your hands backwards and forwards. Teaching your baby this sign is a great alternative to having them throw their food-covered spoon on the floor.
The signs for ‘Mom and ‘Dad are always going to be useful of course. You sign ‘Mom’ by tapping your thumb on your chin, and ‘Dad by tapping your thumb on your forehead.
Babies are fascinated with animals, and if you’ve got a family pet it’s a great idea to make use of your baby’s natural interest by teaching them some animal signs. The sign for ‘dog’ mimics the action of calling a dog, by tapping your hand on your thigh. The ‘cat’ sign mimics a cat by drawing the outline of its whiskers by your nose.
Baby sign is a wonderful addition to your repertoire of communication with your baby, and now that we use it frequently I wish we’d started earlier!
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