95. Unlocking the Magic of Baby Sign Language: Enhancing Communication and Strengthening Bonds
By Dr. Etel Leit "When caregivers can understand and respond to their baby's signs, it creates a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It enhances the joy of parenting, reduces stress, and strengthens the caregiver-child relationship."
Communication is the most important bond that connects parents and their little ones, shaping their understanding and fostering cognitive development! When a baby is born, communication comes down to cooing, but mostly crying. In later age, pointing. It leaves parents in the never-ending guessing game, “what does my baby want?”
But what if there was a way to bridge the communication gap even before babies learn to speak? Baby sign language facilitates early communication and strengthens the parent-child bond! We will explore the incredible benefits of baby sign language and how you can introduce early communication to your little one, but first, let’s get a quick introduction!
What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language is a proven way for babies to communicate before they can speak! It involves using simple hand gestures or signs to convey their needs and emotions to caregivers! Here’s the scoop on what baby sign language is all about:
- Non-Verbal Communication: Baby sign language allows babies to express themselves using gestures instead of relying solely on spoken language. It bridges the communication gap between their preverbal stage and the development of spoken words.
- Simple Signs: Baby sign language typically teaches basic signs representing common words or concepts in a baby’s world. These signs are usually simplified versions of American Sign Language or modified gestures babies can easily imitate. Even if they do not produce the perfect sign, they include use of non-verbal cues to tell you what they want.
- They already sign: all parents sign with their babies, without even knowing it. The gestures for PICK ME UP and HELLO are signs. Did you know that?
- Early Communication: Babies can start learning signs as their motor skills develop around 4 to 6 months old. They can begin to understand and use gestures to express their needs, such as “MILK,” EAT”, “MOMMY”, “DADDY”, or ” PLAY.”
How do I start teaching my baby sign language?
Starting to teach your baby sign language can be an exciting and rewarding way to understand and give your child the tools to express their needs and wants.
Here are some steps to get you started:
- Educate Yourself: Begin by learning the basics of baby sign language! Resources such as books, apps, online tutorials, videos, and classes can help you familiarize yourself with standard signs and techniques.
- Start with Basics: Begin with a small set of basic signs relevant to your baby’s daily life. Choose signs for words that you say often to your child. My recommendation is starting with the sign “MILK” as you feed your child many times during the day.
- Consistency is vital, so initially, focus on a few signs before expanding the repertoire.
- Use Visual and Verbal Cues: Pair them with corresponding spoken words when introducing signs. Say the word clearly while simultaneously demonstrating the movement. This helps babies make the connection between the action and its meaning.
Do not sign the sign “MORE”
The excessive promotion of the sign for “MORE” online is a significant error that many parents make. They become thrilled when their child uses this sign, thinking it means the child is communicating effectively. However, in reality, this sign lacks substance as it does not involve actual speech. The child seems to possess a magical power, prompting parents to rush and cater to their desires. Therefore, it is crucial to avoid using “MORE” excessively.
Instead, focus on introducing tangible and engaging signs that the child can observe and interact with. By encouraging such signs, children can effectively convey their wants and needs, providing a more meaningful form of communication.
How long does it take for a baby to learn and use signs effectively?
The time it takes for a baby to learn and use signs effectively can vary from child to child. Here are some factors that can influence the learning process:
- Individual Development: Each baby develops independently, including motor and cognitive skills. Some babies may pick up signs quickly, while others may take more time. Be patient and allow your baby to progress at their speed
- Consistency and Practice: Consistent exposure and practice are essential for learning and retaining signs. The more frequently you use signs in everyday interactions, the faster your baby will likely grasp them. Repetition and reinforcement play a crucial role in their learning journey
- Language Environment: The language-rich environment in which your baby grows up can impact their ability to learn signs effectively. Babies exposed to regular and consistent signing from caregivers, family members, or in a childcare setting tend to learn signs more readily
What are the benefits of teaching baby sign language?
Teaching baby sign language offers a range of benefits for both babies and their caregivers. Here are some key advantages:
- Enhanced Communication: Baby sign language allows babies to express their needs, wants, and feelings before they can speak. This reduces frustration, tantrums and allows for more effective communication between babies and caregivers
- Earlier Expression: Babies develop the motor skills required to produce signs earlier than their ability to form words. By introducing sign language, they can express themselves earlier and more clearly.
- Strengthened Bond: Learning and using baby sign language creates a deeper bond between babies and caregivers. It promotes active listening, understanding, and responsiveness, fostering a sense of connection and trust.
- Reduced Communication Barriers: Baby sign language can significantly benefit babies with hearing impairments or language delays. It offers them an alternative mode of communication, enabling them to interact and express themselves effectively.
- Enhanced Vocabulary: Research suggests that babies who learn sign language often have larger vocabularies and develop a broader understanding of language concepts. Sign language can act as a stepping stone to developing spoken language skills.
- Cognitive Development: Learning and using signs engage multiple areas of baby’s brain. It stimulates cognitive skills such as memory retention, problem-solving, and conceptual thinking, supporting overall cognitive development.
- Positive Parenting Experience: When caregivers can understand and respond to their baby’s signs, it creates a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. It enhances the joy of parenting, reduces stress, and strengthens the caregiver-child relationship.
Remember, baby sign language enhances communication, rather than replacing spoken language. Be consistent, enthusiastic, and most importantly, make it a fun and interactive experience for your baby! With time and practice, you’ll enjoy watching your little ones express themselves through the signing!
Why is taking a baby sign language class better than doing it by yourself?
Tapping into the captivating world of baby sign language has never been easier. You can learn from seasoned pros who ensure flawless signing for you and your little one. Bond with like-minded parents and adorable babies for a delightful social experience. Having like-minded parents in your journey will enhance communication and you will probably find yourself signing and signing more often with your baby.
Embrace the wonders of baby sign language and open up a world of joyful communication with your little cherub.
Dr. Etel Leit is a pediatric communication expert, author, and speaker. In addition to being the Founder of SignShine, a communication center for individuals and families, Dr. Leit is a communication advocate, and the author of “You are my SignShine,” “Where is Water?” and “UnAddicted to You.” She is also a professor, and widely sought-after speaker at conferences, and podcasts across the world.
Dr. Leit served as a commander in the Israeli Intelligence. She received her BA in languages from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, her Master in Leadership and Education from Pepperdine University, Malibu and her Ph.D. from Sofia University in Palo Alto.
Leit’s television appearances include features by NBC’s Brian Williams Evening News, KTLA’s Morning Show, Fox 11’s Morning News, WEtv’s Growing Up Hip Hop, Style Channel’s Tia and Tamera, and more.