Using Sign Language with Your Baby

mother holding young babyAs babies grow, their understanding of language develops at a faster rate than their ability to speak. This has the potential to cause a great deal of frustration and upset for a child. It’s never fun when you have something very important to say, yet no one can understand you. Teaching your baby sign language can help.

Without realizing it, we have all used signs with babies. We wave “bye bye”, or we shake our head for “yes” and “no”. This is how easy it is to use signs with babies. You’ll want to wait until your baby is at least 6-9 months old to begin. Be sure to remember though, that it will take quite awhile from the time you first begin using signs until your baby is able to use them herself. Receptive language (being able to understand language) almost always precedes expressive language (using the language yourself). With lots of consistent repetition, your baby will be using signs before you know it!

Some parents become concerned that their baby will begin to rely on signs and therefore won’t learn to use spoken language. Research has actually shown the opposite to be true. Because you are speaking the word each time you show your baby the sign and the activity it represents, they are still processing the spoken and the sign language. As a result, signing babies often speak sooner than their non-signing peers and signers also usually have a wider range of vocabulary that they are able to use and understand.

So this all sounds fabulous, right? But how do you get started? Well, the easiest way is to pick some words that you seem to use frequently, maybe “milk”, “more” or maybe even a favorite pet like “kitty” or “dog”. Now, in order to teach the signs, you must memorize them yourself, and use them each time you say the words to your child. It will probably take a bit of remembering, and that’s totally normal! We all take time to learn new things. The way babies and young children learn best is through modeling what we do. So it is your accuracy and consistency that will help your child to learn and use these signs.

To learn the signs yourself, you can find a dictionary of baby signs at Signing with Your Baby. While many signs are taken right from ASL (American Sign Language), others are similar, but made more “baby friendly”. You don’t have to stick to these dictionaries though. If you can create a sign that works for you and your baby, by all means, add it to your repertoire!

Using sign language with your baby will not only help her to experience less frustration but also increase her self esteem. This is because she will feel she is a recognized and understood member of her community! And for parents/caregivers, baby signs will help you to communicate more successfully with your young child.

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