Your baby is crying and you just fed her, changed her, rocked her, offered her favorite toy, played music — you just don’t know what to do. If only she could talk you think, but most kids can’t speak needs and wants until sometime between 12 and 24 months. You are frustrated because you do not know what your baby wants and she is frustrated because you don’t understand what she wants.
Although she can’t speak, she does comprehend a great deal of the daily language spoken around her. And, by 6 months, many babies have enough coordination to communicate through body language. This is a great time to introduce sign language to your baby and create a more relaxing environment because some guess work will be eliminated as your baby begins communicating her needs through sign language. A baby who can communicate her needs is a less frustrated baby, which results in less frustrated parents!
Now imagine your baby is crying and when you approach her, she signs milk. You know exactly what she wants and can offer it to her immediately. Now you have a happy baby and happy parents!
Some think sign language will delay speech. In fact the opposite is true. Sign language helps foster language development and effective communication. Toddlers who signed as infants are more likely to initiate conversation, rather than observe it. Studies have also shown that infants who used sign language on average had an IQ 12 points higher than their non-signing counterparts. Remember, when signing, you are speaking and using visual communication, so your child is using 2 of her senses to “hear” you.
I can’t tell you how wonderful baby sign language has been in our house. It’s so awesome to know what she wants without guesswork and tantrums (for baby and parents!). You really don’t need any fancy books or videos. Just start with a simple sign and use it yourself when you say the word. There are plenty of free online resources where you can learn to sign. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 2 should not be watching TV and videos. Thus, it’s best for your child to learn these signs from you, one at a time. A video teaching signing to an infant and young toddler can be overstimulating and create setbacks for the signs you have already mastered. It is best to teach infant signing one-on-one and do them one at a time so baby has time to master each sign before moving on to the next one.
When someone else is taking care of your child, make sure they are aware of the signs and what they mean so when your baby uses the sign at grandma’s, grandma can respond accordingly.
It’s quite simple. When my daughter was about 9 months old, I started using the sign for milk every time she nursed. I would say and sign “milk” at the same time. Saying and signing at the same time is very important when teaching your infant to sign.
It is also important to be consistent. I said and signed milk while we were nursing, when she switched sides and when she finished (you just had “milk”). Before long, she was starting to sign milk herself. She would sign milk when she wanted to nurse. She would sign milk first thing when she woke up and when I picked her up at daycare.
Offer praise when your baby signs. When my daughter started using the milk sign, I would praise her for using the sign, then sign and say milk again for reassurance. Your baby likes to make you happy, so praising your baby will want to make her repeat the action.
Just remember these things:
1. Be patient
2. Be consistent
3. Teach 1 sign at a time
4. Start with simple signs (like milk and more)
5. Make sure other care givers are aware of the signs your baby is using
6. Praise your baby for using signs
7. HAVE FUN!
Introducing More Signs
Don’t introduce a new sign until the first one is established. You don’t want to confuse the baby. We chose “more” for our next sign (tap finger tips together). This one is also fairly easy to teach. While you are feeding your baby Cheerios for example, put just a couple on her tray. When she eats those, say and sign “more” then put a few more on her tray. Repeat the process. Soon your little genius will start signing “more” when the Cheerios are gone!
Choosing signs is not hard. Pick the one thing that would make your life easier if you knew what your little one was crying for. Our daughter was a great nurser and at 9 months, that is where a baby gets most of her nutrition, so milk was an obvious first choice for us. This sign even will work for bottle fed babies. All they are asking for is milk — no matter the container! Remember to use simple signs at first. Some great first choices are: milk, more, eat, drink, diaper, book, bath, mommy, daddy.
Now that my daughter is nearly 22 months, she still uses sign language, though many times she says the word as well. It seems that some of the signing is starting to fade away, like milk and more, as she is improving her vocabulary. She signs and/or says: milk, more, eat, book, please, out, finished, apple, thank you, train, brush teeth, yummy, and others… At this age, she really picks it up and loves learning. She also knows the difference between saying the word and signing the word. Even now, it is still great!
Signing resources can be found all over the web.
SignWithMe.com — you can look up words and get a quick video of how to sign the word
SigningBaby.com — information on infant signing, plus photos of kids and babies signing
Great You Tube Video of cute signing baby