Babies are completely dependent on you for their daily sustenance and survival, but their ability to learn and connect what goes on around them is miraculous!
Even when babies do not have their vocal skills mastered, they are masters at the art of communication. Through crying, smiling, and cooing, babies let us know how they feel and what they need. But sometimes it can be hard for parents to decipher their baby’s unique language.
That’s where baby sign language comes in.
Why should you use sign language with your baby?
Six months to a year before your child begins speaking verbally, you and your baby can communicate through simple signs. As your child’s motor skills develop sooner than their speaking abilities. From around the age of six months, infants can easily recognize signs for easy concepts such as “milk,” “more,” “teddy bear,” “hungry,” “sleepy,” and more.
The ability to sign basic concepts can be helpful in communication development, providing a bridge to spoken words.
Have you ever experienced an argument that was based on a misunderstanding or miscommunication? If so, you have a glimpse into what it feels like for your child isn’t able to communicate what he wants. Naturally, toddlers resort to angry demonstrations like screaming and crying.
The inability to communicate can be relieved by giving your pre-verbal baby the ability to communicate with you through signs. Sign language also increases the bond between parent and child because it promotes face to face and tactile contact. This can improve their confidence and self-esteem and lessen feelings of helplessness and anger.
Later, as your child develops verbal communication skills, sign language can still come in handy if your child is ever too distraught to speak clearly, or if you want to communicate a private message to your child in a public place (such as giving a reprimand or warning without publicly humiliating your child).
Mealtime Baby Sign Language
Baby sign language is particularly helpful around mealtimes. Basic signs like “hungry,” “thirsty,” “more,” and “all done” can help eliminate frustration and encourage positive interactions around the dinner table!
Babies are extremely bright and yearn to communicate with their caregivers in any way that works. They tend to use movements and actions that are easiest for them. For example, babies who feel full or do not want a certain food may spit, throw food, or knock bowls off the table. If they are hungry, they may cry or reach for another child’s food.
Sign language removes this barrier of communication. If a baby can tell you that he or she is hungry or full, that he or she does not want something or wants more of some food item, they will hopefully not resort to crying or food throwing.
Mealtimes are an integral part of every parent’s and baby’s life. In fact, children spend at least 9 hours of their week eating. Learning and teaching your baby sign language—specifically, meal-related sign language—can help promote an unhurried, stress-free mealtime experience for both parent and baby, and reduce friction based on miscommunication.
Tips on teaching your baby sign language
Sign language instruction can begin when your baby is around 6 months and has mastered the skill of holding your gaze for a few seconds.
Begin with three to five basic signs
Make eye contact with your baby and say the word out loud as you make the sign and gesture to the objects those signs represent.
Repeat the signs regularly
Encourage other caregivers to do the same. Your baby should start to mimic the signs in approximately two months, and then you can add words as you make progress.
Keep sign language consistent and clear
Also, use the sign every time you say the word. Teach your baby during special times during the day when your baby is most awake and attentive. Meal times are highly interactive and are great for teaching sign language. Other helpful times might include bath time, reading time, and play time.
Sometimes, babies don’t always sign the word “properly,” but the important thing is to make sure both parent and baby agree on the meaning of the sign. Your baby does not have to master American Sign Language, she just needs to know enough signs to communicate with you.
Of course, all children are different, and some babies may not immediately show an interest in signing. Be patient with your baby and if you are persistent, you will start to see results. No matter what, remember to be mindful, and observant and adapt your communication to what your baby needs.
3 Simple Signs to Start
“All done!” This is one of the most popular ASL baby signs. To do it, hold both hands up, palms facing toward your chest, fingers spread out. Then, in one quick motion, turn your hands so that the palms are facing out away from you.
“More.” touch the tips of your four fingers and thumb together on both your right and left hand (with all your knuckles flattened). Then touch the fingertips of your right hand to your left, as if you are making a “pecking/kissing” motion with your hands.
“Hungry.” Make a “C” shape with one hand, with your palm facing your chest. Then start with your hand at your neck and move it down to your belly button in one motion. (This sign is similar to the motion of food going down into your stomach)
Sign language allows babies to communicate with caregivers and parents long before they can speak verbally. Also, sign language accelerates babies’ verbal skills and strengthens emotional bonds. If you are able to consistently use the signs at home, it will make mealtimes harmonious and fun.
With patience and persistence sign language can become a highly beneficial part of your relationship with your child—during mealtimes and at all other times!