Is your baby doing a lot of talking, but not telling you anything?
Mine was telling me when she was hungry, tired, thirsty, and even when she had a wet diaper. And this was before she could talk.
Infants are able to communicate long before their mouths are able to produce the intricate sounds of language. Simple hand signs, based on American Sign Language, can be taught as early as 10-months.
Imagine that your baby begins crying. That’s not hard to imagine, right? But suppose that you could ask your child what’s wrong and she can tell you with a simple sign. She touches her pointer fingers together in front of her mouth, and you realize that she’s signing “hurt” by her teeth. Ahh, it’s that new tooth that coming in. You can assure your baby and give her medicine, stopping the tears.
Infant sign language could be the key to eliminating (or at the very least lessening) the Terrible Twos. One of the biggest factors in temper tantrums is lack of communication. Dinah Laurel writes how the inability to effectively communicate could attribute to the “terrible” behavior of your toddler. Around age two, your child’s “speech will be limited and a bit nonsensical at times,” she writes in her Associated Content article.
Teaching your infant signs can promote language learning and prevent frustration later in development. “Some parents say the use of sign language also facilitates their baby’s ability to speak,” writes Virginia De Leon of The Spokesman-Review.
I have used infant sign language for all three of my children and can testify to its effectiveness. With the help of Joseph Garcia’s Sign With Me, I learned simple signs for words such as: eat, drink, potty, and bottle (milk). My children each, in turn, learned to sign before they could speak. Even after learning to voice their needs, they still relied on signs when tired, sick, or in certain situations, like when I’m vacuuming or they are in gymnastics class. My daughters, ages 5 and 8, still use the sign for toilet to prevent embarrasment in crowds.
The key is not to push sign language on your child, which will only cause stress in both of you. Just add the signs as you speak. Begin with just one sign. I recommend starting with “baba” (or “milk”). The sign is a single hand in a repetitive squeeze motion, like you’re milking a cow. At first, only use the sign when your baby can see the bottle. Such as, “Are you drinking a baba?” or “Mommy is making your baba right now!” After a week, start making the sign even when the bottle is not visible. After another week or so, you can try making the sign without saying the word.
Do not pressure your child to respond. Do not deny your child if she can’t sign or require that she make a sign in order to get something. Also, don’t try to teach signs to a fussy baby. Your infant should be well-rested and happy to be receptive to learning a sign.
Be patient and be consistent. My oldest daughter watched me sign at her starting at age 6-months. She’d stare at me like I was crazy. It was suggested to me not to move on to another sign until my child learned the first one. But my daughter seemed to acknowledge my choice to sign, yet opt not to join me. So I moved on to a new sign every other week or so, constantly adding new signs. Then one day, when my daughter was around 11-months-old, she just began to sign with me. Of course, by this time she could say “baba” plain as day, but she always used the sign with great enthusiasm.
I was a bit ambitious in beginning with a 6-month-old. Not that it hurts to sign to such a young child, but don’t be upset or frustrated if your infant does not respond until she’s a bit older.
Try to get other family members and caretakers on board with which signs your child uses. Nothing is more frustrating for a baby than the realization that Grandma doesn’t know that he is signing for “more” of that yummy applesauce.
If your baby is already a toddler and frustrated with his inability to communicate his needs, it’s not too late. Sign language might be the solution to your child’s behavior problems. Sign drink (finger by lips, hand lifted up as when drinking) when you hand him his sippy cup. Sign apple (pointer finger with both joints bent twisting at the cheek, other fingers in a fist) as he takes a bite.
When you notice your toddler trying to make a sign, take his hand and help him put his fingers in the right position. It’s okay if the signs are not exact, as long as you know what your child is trying to tell you. I’ve heard of signing toddlers creating their own signs for things. That’s great; encourage your child to learn as many signs as he wants. Just be sure to keep it light-hearted and fun.
Infant sign language can offer your family the unique opportunity to communicate with your children before they have the ability to speak. The first time your child points to the sky and signs airplane without prompting will bring tears to your eyes. Trust me, I know.