No need for baby talk when there’s baby sign language. Babies can communicate using modified gestures from American Sign Language, and teaching it can make for a fun bonding activity with your child.
According to the Mayo Clinic, baby sign language may allow children a way to communicate months earlier than those who only communicate audibly. When a child uses sign language they can relay their needs without crying or a fuss. Instead of sobbing their hearts out at 2 a.m., they’ll learn how to tell you what they want when they want it.
Babies can learn at as young as 6 months old, but likely can’t communicate with baby sign language until about 8 months old. Instead of speaking at about 12 months, children can communicate much earlier. And, for many children who learn this can help with their frustration when they cannot verbally express themselves. Here’s how:
Begin with basics like the actions, objects and people that most interest your child. If they’re fascinated with colors or animals, start with those. The five most common signs are mom, dad, eat, milk and dog. Plus, it’s helpful to use meaningful gestures like pointing. BabySignLanguage.com offers free starter signs and flashcards to teach your children.
Make It Fun
While holding your baby on your lap, use their arms and hands to make signs. Use signs while communicating with your baby and incorporate it into daily routines like feeding and bathing. Perform the sign and say the word. Motivate them with a playful tone. If you’re having fun, they’re having fun.
Right Place, Right Time
Babies have a natural curiosity, which means they can get distracted easily. Try teaching right after a nap when your baby is well-rested. They won’t want to learn if they’re hungry or tired. Sign in their eyeline and remove any toys or noises around them. Keep sessions short at about five minutes each. Repeat the process three times a day.
It takes time learning different languages at any age, but especially as a child. If your baby doesn’t catch on immediately, remember that the main goal is to reduce frustrations and create a stronger parent-child bond. Guide their hands to perform the sign if they don’t perform the sign within five seconds. Make sure to reward your baby with praise and encouragement.
Keep talking to your child as you teach baby sign language. Verbal communication is still crucial to your child’s speech development. Although it gives your baby another way to communicate, baby sign language
shouldn’t supplement speech.
Book: Baby Signs by Joy Allen, Target, $5.69
Book: Baby Sign Language Made Easy: 101 Signs to Start Communicating With Your Child Now by Lane Rebelo, Amazon, $13.49
ILLUSTRATIONS BY MEGAN SAPELAK