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This is the Truth About Teaching Your Baby Sign Language

Do you wish you could communicate with your baby?

Are you looking for new ways to understand your baby’s needs?

Teaching your baby sign language is a great way to help babies express their needs, so you’ll have no problems understanding them.

In this article, you’ll find out when and how you can teach your baby sign language along with the pros and cons.

So How Does It Work?

1) Know When Your Baby is Ready to Learn to Sign

You can start teaching your baby to sign as early as you’d like, but it is recommended that you wait until they’re 6 months as they can focus on you for longer.

The chances are your baby is already making signs that you’re completely oblivious to – waving hello or gesticulating more frequently. This is a sign that your baby is ready to learn.

2) Select a List of Signs to Learn

It’s important to select signs that are relevant to you and your baby. Common words they would use often in the day like mum, dad, eat, more, please, drink and so on.

When completing your list, shorten this down to four words. This should be the most basic and commonly used words.

3) Learn Your Signs

You don’t need to know all of them, only the four most important. You can find any sign you want to online, but the most reliable are those inspired by American Sign Language (ASL). ASL coach is a free app that lets you learn lessons on the go or you can buy an ASL dictionary.

4) Teaching Your Baby

Clearly execute the signs in front of your baby with the action you are describing. Right before you feed them, sign “eat” or when you are giving more to your baby, sign “more”.

It is important to vocalise the action along with signing and repeating this consistently to help them learn when they transition to speaking.

Getting their attention will probably be your biggest challenge. Plan your training at particular times in the day to maximise effectiveness. During mealtimes, bath times and at bedtime are the best times of day to teach your child.

During meal time is great opportunity to teach them the signs for “more” or “bottle” as they will be more interested in learning food related signs when they’re hungry.

5) Be Consistent with Your Signing

Teaching your child is the easy part. Ensuring you consistently repeat the sign when ever possible is what’s hard. If you’ve had a long day or have worked late, mustering the energy to teach sign language can be a stretch.

With repetition they’ll pick up the signs a lot faster and once they’ve learned them, they’ll be familiar with the process of learning new signs.

And when your baby starts signing back, be proud about it. Even if their signs bear no resemblance at all to the sign. It keeps them engaged and will reinforce their learning if they can see it makes you happy.

6) Show Them how to Make the Sign

Whilst teaching your baby signs, take their hands and help them make the sign by guiding their hands with yours. This will help them learn as well bond with you.

For example, if you wanted to teach your baby the sign for “more”, take their hands and position them opposite each other. Then proceed to tap the fingertips together twice. You will have to practise this several times for it to really sink in.

7) Encourage Others to Sign

You may not be with your baby all the time, so when you’re not, encourage whoever is looking after your child to use sign language. This will help your baby with the retention of certain signs and help them learn.

Don’t worry if they don’t want to sign with your child. This won’t have a huge impact of their progress.

8) Be Patient

Whilst babies can learn at 6 months, they may not be able to sign back until 7-9 months of age. If you feel like it’s going nowhere, know that your baby is learning the meaning of the signs, they just physically cannot perform the sign as of yet. Every baby is unique and will learn at different speeds. Just remain positive. They will get there.

If you’re having trouble losing their attention, a great way to keep them engaged is it maintain excitement whilst signing. Incorporating facial expressions and active body language can help keep their focus.

Teaching a baby to sign

Common Signs

Bottle

Baby Sign - Bottle

This is signed by placing your weak hand palm side up and with your strong hand, form an imaginary cup. Next, move your hand up and down, loosening your grip as you go up. This can be used for a milk or juice bottle. While some may prefer to teach the actual sign for milk or juice, this is an easier sign for your baby to learn.

 

More

Baby Sign - More

This is signed by tapping your fingertips together. This is a very versatile sign your child can use when eating or drinking to indicate that they aren’t finished. You can practise this by feeding your child and asking “Do you want more?”, whilst performing the sign. 

 

Thirsty

Baby Sign - Thirsty

This is made by extending your index finger and moving it down your chin towards your belly. Teach this to your baby before you give them some water.

 

Milk

Baby Sign - Milk

This sign is very similar to milking a cow and is performed by taking both hands and making them into a fist. This could be one of the first signs you decide to teach your baby as it’s one of the most common things they want! You can practise this by signing before you feed your baby.

 

Eat

Baby Sign - Eat

You can make this sign by taking your strong hand and with the tip of your thumb touch your fingertips and tap it on your mouth. This is a great sign to teach your children once they’ve moved on to solids. As your child learns more signs you can teach them specific words like banana or apple.

 

Tips on Signing

To get the most out of this experience, keep these few tips in mind:

  • ‣ Be patient. Remember your baby is learning a completely new language…with their hands! Don’t worry if they don’t get it right away. It will take a while before they pick it up, but with perseverance you will be one stop closer to better communication with your child.

  • ‣ Signs must be simple. Start with a few basic signs they will use day-to-day (more, help, hungry or thirsty). By selecting signs that are applicable to the most common situations that occur in their day it will easier for your baby to learn and for you to reinforce this.

  • ‣ Allow for some wiggle room. Your child is not going to perfectly perform a sign with their hands right away. You need to allow for some wiggle room. It doesn’t matter if they use their own signs, as long as you both understand the meaning your communication will certainly improve.

  • ‣ Repetition is key. Your child will be much better at signing if you continue to practise with them. This means every day! You can include friends and family in the training to help reinforce their learning.

  • ‣ Always pair the sign with a word. This may sound like a given but you’d be surprised! Speaking is the ultimate goal so if your baby signs to you, respond by signing and saying the word.

This video is shows you how to teach sign language to your baby.

 

The Pros

Eliminates Frustration

Teaching your baby sign language will allow you to understand whether they want a drink, food, help… anything!

By reducing the length of the guessing game, you will be able to respond to your child’s needs. This means fewer tantrums from them and less frustration for you.

Parent Hugging Child

Parent-Baby Bonding

Being able to communicate with your baby in a secret language is a great way to bond with them. By offering them praise in public or even talking about hearing an aeroplane, the constant communication between the both of you will definitely make your relationship stronger.

Parents Bonding

The Cons

Time

Sadly, it will take a while to teach them. Signing alongside speech needs to be reinforced at every opportunity to ensure your child has the best chance to retain this information.

This also includes watching your child sign to observe how they perform each sign, which can take up a lot of your time.

Mother and Child

Frustration

While this can eliminate frustration for you at home, there will still be situations where your child will be unable to communicate their needs to people who have no comprehension of sign language.

If you do decide to teach your baby sign language this scenario will happen and it can be very difficult to deal with.

Frustration

Common Myths

#1: Teaching a Baby Sign Language Will Delay Speech

For some reason, some parents assume that by learning sign language their child will not need to learn how to talk to communicate. This is wrong as signing is always accompanied with the associated word.

If anything, sign language will accelerate their ability to speak as they’re exposed to more speech than non-signing babies. Recent studies have shown that sign language can accelerate a baby’s ability to speak.

#2: It Will be Too Hard for a Baby to Learn

This is partly true as at first, they won’t have a clue what you are doing! However, after constant repetition they will begin to pick up a few signs.

Babies’ minds are like sponges, constantly absorbing information from their environment. As they observe you acting out the signs, they will retain this over time and learn how to sign back.

Conclusion

Baby sign language can be a fantastic way to start communicating with your baby.

Your child may resist at first but remember, patience! With constant repetition your child should be able to pick it up in no time. But do be aware of the cons that come with this approach; This solution is not for everyone.

If you do decide to take this up…have fun with it! This can be a wonderful way to spend time with your child and strengthen your bond.

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