Baby sign language is proven to help parents (and caregivers) communicate more effectively with babies and young toddlers before they can speak. My son picked up baby sign language at the early age of 6 months (the earliest age recommended to start is 4 months old) and my daughter started using signs around 10 months.
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Now lets cover the basics of baby sign language, when to start and how to teach it! Jump to the very end for great baby sign language tools and resources!
Baby Sign Language Basics
Baby sign language uses simple hand gestures to sign or symbolize specific words or phrases to help babies communicate their wants and needs. (It is NOT American sign language)
When baby and you-their parent or caregiver-use these hand gestures to communicate, babies feel more secure knowing they can “tell you” what they want. Likewise, you can proudly solve their needs much easier and therefore everyone gets frustrated much less! That was definitely the case for us. Like I said, my son picked up baby sign language so quick! He could tell me if he was hungry, thirsty, wanted more of something, was all done eating and when he wanted to nurse. He was very easy to teach it to as well, unlike my daughter, and he certainly seemed happier knowing how to “talk” to me in his own way. When I signed to him something asking if that’s what he wanted (for example, if I signed “are you thirsty?”) he would shake his head “yes” or “no”.
My daughter, my second born, was slower to pick up baby sign language. She didn’t quite grasp the concept until she was about 10 months old or so and even then she only really knew one sign for a while–“all done”. She loved to throw her hands in the air like her big brother to show that she too was done eating. She’d even say “aaahhh duh” at the same time. Then she learned “thirsty” around a year old, next “more” around fifteen months old. Both of my babies also loved that they could tell me whenever they wanted to nurse and had a sign for “ne-ne”…which was both cute and exhausting, especially with cluster feeding! (Come back to this post when you’re done here to read about Surviving Cluster Feeding & When to Expect It)
We are currently working on more baby signs since she is only 16 months old and at this age she is really understanding relating the gestures to phrases and I think she’s going to grasp more signs quickly.
When To Start Baby Sign Language
Experts say you can start teaching baby sign language as young as 4-6 months old. I think for success, and this is opinion, it’s all about how dedicated you are. I remember being very adamant about sign language with my son and probably not as consistent with my daughter.
If your baby seems to have control over his or her hand movements, he or she will likely be able to make different hand gestures too.
Benefits of Baby Sign Language
According to this article, some studies have shown that babies who use baby sign language from an early age develop a stronger vocabulary by 36 months and even become better learners at an older age.
Other benefits include:
- Reduced frustration in babies and tantrums in young toddlers. Most times when babies are upset and can’t tell you why, their feelings can escalate into real frustration, crying and tantrums. Baby sign language helps to eliminate a lot of those occasions!
- Early understanding of language. Baby sign language introduces language and communication so that when its time to talk, they already correlate certain words with their meaning.
- Babies who are able to relay their wants and needs and feelings by using baby sign language are visibly proud of themselves. The picture at the beginning of this post of Jolene signing “more” was the first one I took and look how happy she is about it! I have seen this in both of my children-this sense of accomplishment and pride at telling me what they want.
- They can tell you how they feel and become aware of their emotions early on. Perhaps better/easier to teach emotion sign language around 18 months, baby sign language can even help your young toddler tell you how they’re feeling. Whether it’s happy, sad or that they love you so much, this is one very useful and insightful tool for really connecting with your baby.
How to Teach Baby Sign Language
Teaching baby sign language is so easy, once you know the signs! All you need to do is SAY the word or phrase as you SIGN the word or phrase. Try to sign it every time you say it. Make your hand gestures very enthusiastic and perhaps speak slowly as you sign at first. This is what I did and it seemed to help them correlate words with signs very quickly.
Here are a couple examples of how I started teaching my kids baby sign language.
The sign for “all done” is where I started with both of my babies. Whenever they seemed to be done eating I’d hold up my arms, above my head, and say “All done!” At first they would giggle, but they soon realized this is what we do right before Mommy or Daddy gets me down from the high chair. It was the quickest sign for them to pick up.
Another easy sign to start with is “more” (Jolene is doing this sign in the first picture!), which looks like the picture here.
Some baby signs I think can be modified to hand gestures that make more sense to you and the way your baby communicates other wants. For example, our sign for “thirsty” was very different from the “normal” one. I would ask, “Are you thirsty?” while shaking my hand back and forth with my hand cupped as if I was holding an invisible cup. Jake Jr soon started waving his hand in the air, holding an invisible cup, to tell me when he was thirsty. I carried this same sign for thirsty on to my daughter and I still chuckle when she tells me she’s thirsty!
Disadvantages(?) to Teaching Baby Sign Language
It is possible for some people to have a bad experience with teaching and trying to use baby sign language to communicate with their kiddos. Of course, right? Because nothing is fail-proof! So, I think being proactive and knowing why some parents/babies “fail” at baby sign is one good way not to!
Here’s the number one reason why some parents and/or babies do not benefit from baby sign language…
Sticking to it:
In order for babies to successfully relate their needs to specific hand gestures, parents need to be super consistent with it. Nearly every time you say the keyword or phrase, you should demonstrate the sign as well. Consistency-from all caregivers- with baby sign language is very important.
I think that it’s more likely for babies who attend daycare regularly to either be slower to pick up sign or miss it entirely. Of course, if the daycare also uses baby sign language that would be phenomenal!
Baby Sign Language Tools
If you want to really dive deep into teaching baby sign language, there are thousands of apps, books, downloads and flash cards to help you. One company with very positive reviews and affordably priced tools for baby sign language that I have found is TinyTalk. From this link you can get an E-book, a bunch of downloads, a DVD and some other useful baby sign language resources that guarantee to have your baby signing in less than 60 days or you get a refund.
So if you’ve been seeing frustration in your baby as they try to communicate to you what they need, I would absolutely recommend teaching them baby sign language. It was certainly a life-saver for us, easy to show grandparents and when people see you and your baby signing to each other they’ll be so impressed!
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