Have you ever looked at your baby and thought, ‘I’m sure you can understand every word I’m saying’?
Tiny babies want to communicate with their parents. But for the first year they lack the means to speak with us, in their first months they physically aren’t ready to produce words yet. What happens when your baby wants to tell you something but cannot get their message across? They get frustrated, they cry and tantrum.
Read on to find out how to improve communication with your baby.
by Roya Caviglia
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a parenting tool which allows you to have two-way communication with your baby before they can talk? It would be wonderful to have a way to find out what they want or need before they get upset. No more wondering why they are crying.
- Imagine how that would improve your relationship with your child and strengthen your bond.
- Think about how happy you can make your little one, helping them feel secure in the knowledge they are understood and that their needs (and wants) will be met. Less meltdowns and tantrums!
- Wouldn’t it be great to give your child a head start with language, especially if they are growing up in a multilingual environment?
You can have these benefits and more by learning a few signs and teaching them to your baby.
What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language is a communication tool for all children (hearing or otherwise) which is very simple to implement and can have powerful results for your family. It is popular in the USA where the signs in use are based on American Sign Language (ASL). In the UK there are various varieties of baby sign systems in use, for example signs taken from Makaton or based on British Sign Language (BSL) are often used by families and their infants.
The goal is not to learn an entire sign language, but to carefully select signs which will help your family in your personal context. Chosen signs are often adapted to make them suitable for tiny hands to perform. In the method of baby sign language that I teach, Infant Communication, the sign I love you has been adapted from the ASL sign. This is because in BSL 3 separate signs make up the phrase ‘I love you’. That’s too much for a small baby to perform. In ASL there is a single one-handed sign representing the letters I, L, and U, for I love you. This is easier for infants to perform. Even easier if you leave out the little finger and simply sign the letter ‘L’ for love.
How wonderful it feels when your child tells you that they love you, even though they cannot yet pronounce the words!
How does Baby Sign Language work in practice?
Parents choose and learn a number of signs which they believe will be relevant and helpful for them and their baby. There are a few signs which seem to be universally useful and I suggest starting with these 5: I love you, Milk, Eat, More, and Sleep (see infographic to the left. Click to enlarge!).
Parents use these signs with their child at every opportunity. It is important that the signs are used in context so that the infant can attach the correct meaning to the visual cue. For example, milk should only be signed by mum or dad while the baby is being offered milk or can see milk. Of course, while making the sign parents continue speaking to their baby; ‘Would you like some milk?’. Then the baby will soon understand the meaning of the sign and if they are motivated to communicate they will start working on performing the sign.
When do babies sign back?
It’s important to have realistic expectations. Some babies can make signs as young as 16 weeks old. But most don’t sign until they are around 9 months old. They can understand the signs earlier than that though, generally babies can recognise signs and their meanings at around 6 months old.
Some infants will not perform all the signs they can recognise and this is normal. They might not be all that interested in milk or have a more effective way of telling you that’s what they want.
Once they gain enough control of their motor skills and sign back, it’s important they receive clear feedback that they are understood. ‘You’re signing milk? Are you thirsty? Let’s go get you some milk’. With this positive reinforcement babies will enjoy signing and look for other signs to learn.
How can my family get the best out of this communication method?
Some families start with one sign and add others when their baby is signing back. Others learn quite a few and get into the habit of using them all as soon as possible. What do you think will work best for your family?
Once you have identified the signs that will be useful for your family, learn them and start using them with your baby in context. Make it a habit by putting up reminders (a post-it note on the formula box for ‘milk’ or a reminder on your phone when the next feed is due). Be consistent and do not give up. This is very important because your baby needs repetition in order to learn the sign and its meaning.
Make sure you have fun signing with your family. Consider learning nursery rhymes which are easy to sign, for example the Incy Wincy Spider (the Itsy Bitsy Spider in the US!).
It’s also a rather good idea to teach the signs to others that spend time with your baby. This will give your baby more opportunities to communicate and make life easier for everyone!
Sign up at BabySignLanguageCourse.com to learn your first sign today and experience the benefits for yourself.
Also now available on Amazon: Infant Communication Baby Sign Language. This ebook helps you get started and answers all the questions you might have about signing with your baby to guarantee your family has success with this communication method! [Free to download 23-24/09/2019]
Join our Facebook group and connect with other families using sign language.
My Baby Sign Language Course website
My ebook on Amazon, Infant Communication Baby Sign Language
Facebook Group for Baby Signing
Roya, from the UK, is married to an Italian and has lived and taught English in several European countries. After having kids in the Netherlands she became fascinated with how babies and multilingual children communicate and is now exploring the best ways to support them with this.