Communicate Early with Baby Sign Language
Published on: April 14, 2017
Give your little one a head start in communicating with you with baby sign language. One mom shares her tips and experience signing with her baby.
By Jinae Higashino / Photos by Azusa Uchida
When the first friends within my social circle became parents, I was fascinated (and slightly terrified!) to observe this new stage in life I planned to one day embark upon. There was a lot to take in, and one thing I noticed was that many of them were using baby sign language. Although I had never heard of it before, it seemed like a great tool for early communication and something I wanted to try whenever the time came.
A couple of years later my daughter was born, and once she was 6 months old I bought a book on baby sign language with picture examples of basic signs. I started using the signs for “milk”, “eat”, “more” and “all done” every time I nursed or fed her baby food, and for 3 months… absolutely nothing. It was slightly disheartening not to get quick results, but eventually, at 9 months she signed “eat” for the first time. The payoff was definitely worth the effort, and it was amazing to finally understand my daughter clearly!
After that, I continued to introduce more signs to her as needed, and whenever I wanted to use a new one which wasn’t in my book, I simply Google searched it or looked it up on YouTube (you can learn almost anything online these days!). I added more signs according to need, as well as following my daughter’s interests.
Eventually, her verbal skills caught up and she no longer used signs to communicate, but signing enabled me to start conversing with her much earlier than I would have otherwise been able to.
We moved to Thailand when my daughter had just turned one, and I often attended various playgroups around Bangkok with her. I didn’t see a lot of baby sign language being used here, and perhaps I was just too busy running after my little one to register it or I didn’t meet people at the right stage to see it. But in case it isn’t so prevalent, here is some info and tips summarized from www.babysignlanguage.com to hopefully encourage parents to give it a try!
There are practical, emotional and cognitive benefits to using baby sign language. Babies can get frustrated when they aren’t able to communicate, so using baby sign language helps reduce distress which leads to fussing, irritability and tantrums. It’s a great source of fun and fosters deeper bonding by allowing parents to better tune in to their child.
Furthermore, baby sign language has been associated with cognitive benefits such as larger vocabulary and higher IQ. Baby sign language provides a means of communication much earlier than babies are physiologically able to produce speech, hence closing the gap between initial ability to understand and verbal production of language.
When to start
Anytime is a good time to start! It’s possible to start as early as birth, though you’ll need to be patient in regards to when your baby is able to sign back (earliest is at about 6 months). The recommended age is between 6 to 9 months, taking on average about 2 months for baby to begin signing.
Even if your little one is 18 months and this is the first you’ve heard of baby sign language, you can still introduce it as he or she will be able to catch on more quickly due to increased cognitive and motor skills – sometimes in as little as one week!
Teaching your baby
- Have fun! Learning shouldn’t be stressful and can be a great chance to bond with your little one.
- Start small. Just five minutes a day and five signs to start with is enough. Choose a few practical signs (such as ‘eat’, ‘sleep’, ‘milk’, ‘more’, or ‘all done’), plus a relational or fun sign (‘mama’, favorite animal, etc.)
- Repetition. Focus on a handful of signs to learn, work them into your routine and use them consistently, by signing whenever the word comes up in conversation.
- Encourage effort. For younger babies, coordination may take some time. Pay attention in order to recognize their initial efforts and shower them with praise when you recognize they are trying to sign.
- Expand vocabulary. Once your baby understands the concept and makes her first signs, slowly introduce more. Focus on baby’s interests and extend along themes.
Learning and teaching baby sign language doesn’t have to be daunting, just take it step by step and see how far you go with it. My second daughter is now 5 months so I’ll be starting this journey with her soon. It takes a bit of patience and consistency, but the payoff is well worth the effort. Good luck and happy signing!
About the Author
Jinae is from the US, an experienced EFL teacher with a background in child development. She was BAMBI magazine assistant editor, and served as playgroup co-leader for several different BAMBI playgroups. Jinae, her husband and 2 daughters have been living in Bangkok for 3 years.
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