Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Language

Photo by Lars Plougmann via flickr

Do you ever wonder what’s going on in your baby’s amazing brain?  There are a lot of connections being made constantly during infancy but being able to express them verbally with words is probably a long way off.  Fortunately, there is another fantastic way to communicate with your baby, baby sign language.  It has a lot of benefits for both you and your baby and is growing in popularity as an initial way for your baby to communicate with you, besides crying that is.

Baby sign language uses the same signs as American Sign Language and much of it is rather intuitive.  You may actually know more signs than you realize.  Research indicates that babies may be receptive to signs as early as 4 months, however they cannot manipulate their fingers and hands to repeat them until 7 or 8 months.  While you can attempt to teach your baby a variety of signs, there are certain signs that will be most useful in this early stage.

Benefits of Baby Sign Language

Baby sign language is helpful to you and your baby in a variety of ways.  The most obvious advantage is knowing what your baby is thinking, or more importantly, what he needs and wants.  This cuts down on much frustration.  Your baby gets what he wants and you are not left guessing what grunts, cries or incessant pointing is all about.  This first form of “conversation” between you and your tot can strengthen your bond.  He can express himself even beyond needs and desires, such as telling you something he sees or hears.  And the best will be when he signs that he loves you!  Plus, you’ll make a connection as your baby has to focus on learning the meaning of signs and mimicking them.

Many parents fear that sign language will inhibit speech development but studies show that that is not true.  Sign language can actually advance speech and vocabulary as you connect a sign to a word.  It’s important to always say the word you are signing so eventually your baby will learn the word too.  Sign language can be a conversation starter between the two of you and prompt you to talk more and help develop early speech skills.

Teaching Baby Sign Language

If you think about it, your baby may already know some signs, such as waving hello or goodbye or giving a high five.  Teaching signs is all about repetition.  Every time you use the word, do the sign too to reinforce it.  Once your baby is of age to sign, it may take several weeks before you see any signs that make sense to you.  You may notice that your baby adapts a sign to form his own sign for something you’re trying to teach him.  That’s OK!  It’s all about communication so if both of you understand that sign, go with it.  You can teach other caregivers what it means so they understand it too.

Many parents start with signs for basic needs.  “More,” “eat,” “drink,” and “done” are among the most popular.  Then you can move on to some of your daily activities, such as “play,” “bath,” “book,” “sleep,” and “change.”  Sign language can come in handy as you teach manners too by using signs for “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.”

There are many books, videos and online programs that can show you how to do many of these basic signs.  You can show them to your baby, but letting your baby watch you sign repeatedly will probably be the best way to teach baby sign language.  Encourage all of your caregivers – your partner, grandparents, nannies – to sign as well.

Witnessing your baby learning sign language and using it to communicate is pretty amazing.  It will probably rank up there with the first steps and potty training in how proud you are of your tot.  This initial form of communication is a precious window into your baby’s incredible brain.