It is 2am and your baby is screaming! Something is wrong! Been there? You rush to the nursery and can't figure it out! Diaper is dry, belly is full, temperature is normal... it is 3am , 4am... Now, imagine this: 2am, your baby cries and waits for you to come, you enter the room and ask "what is wrong?". Your baby runs his index finger and thumb through his cheeks, the sign for "cat". You hand him the cat toy from the shelf, he hugs the cat and falls back to sleep!
Every parent is delighted when their baby starts waving bye-bye! Babies can learn to nod no and yes at a pretty early age, right? Way before they learn to talk, right? Well, these are signs your baby learn to use because you teach him by making the sign when you say the word., bye in this case. So when you say bye-bye, he waves good bye! This is called sign language! Your baby has associated that word with that gesture. Even though he cannot say "bye" yet, you KNOW what he means when he uses the gesture. Signing does not require as many skills as talking, therefore they can accomplish to communicate before talking.To talk we use sound, air flow, respiration, tongue positioning, lips movement... It's complex!
Where is it?
When your baby is able to tell you what he needs or thinks, you both win! So why not to teach signs to your child? Please, don't say you can't teach the signs because you don't know them! Is it said: "if you really want to learn something, try to teach it!" There we go! Since I couldn't find a reason not to, I did it. And I can tell you it was actually fun and easy! All you need is consistency. There are many available materials to help you nowadays. Books for you, books for the child, DVDs, websites and even online video dictionaries. The signs are almost obvious, they make sense, so it is not that difficult to grasp it. The videos are fun and will help you learn together. My kids, now almost 3 and 4 1/2 , still love them! At the end of this article, you will find a few links to guide you. These are just a few as there are an extensive list of resource literature and websites to help you. I welcome your questions! Although this became a lengthy post, I did cut a lot of information and tips that would pertain only the very interested. First you have to decide if you want to teach pure American Sign Language (ASL), if you want to teach Baby Sign Language or if you want to mix in just a few baby signs to help the really young babies to sign while they develop the necessary motor skill to do the ASL sign for a certain word. I did mix in only a couple.
After you read one or two books and decide you want to help your child communicate, you will have to choose 5 to to 10 signs, to begin with that you think are important to you and your child. (i.e.: milk, eat, more, diaper change, all done, sleep, cold, hot, big, book, cat, dog, bird - if baby loves them). Yes, you will have to use the sign every time you say the word. It may feel weird at first, but you will get used to it pretty quickly. Trust me, it is worth it! When your baby starts asking for milk, water or a diaper change before he even turns one, you will be hooked! Then they will sign bike, airplane, play, ball, please, sorry, thank you!, hungry... Can you imagine? Your baby telling you what he needs INSTEAD OF CRYING! I imagine it must be very frustrating trying to help a fussy toddler, without having a clue what they really want to say or have! Since both of my kids never went through that stage of pointing to objects and crying, I don't know exactly how it feels!
A lot of times I was asked if signing would not discourage talking. People think that because babies that sign get what they need they will not have stimulus to talk, but it is the opposite. And reading a couple books you will see that there is a lot of studies and data to prove that. Research shows that kids who use sign language speak earlier than the ones who do not and also have a higher IQ. But that is just a plus!
First I need to tell you, my kids are just average kids. They are not geniuses, they are not special, just regular happy kids! I started teaching my son (pictures, at 14 months) when he was about six months. First I introduced only 5 signs: milk, more, eat, diaper change and cat (he was obsessed with our two cats!). Almost two months later he started using the sign for milk and I was delighted! Then I introduced a few more signs and soon he was using them all. Do not get discouraged if it takes a long time for the first sign to emerge. Once kids realize they can communicate THEY will get excited and will LOVE it! Both of my kids also used sounds for words they didn't know the sign and could not pronounce them yet! (Like doing "Shhhh" for silence, but for example, my daughter used imitate the sound our curtains made when I opened them and used that sound to say "curtain" ). They made up signs too and this is actually very common.
Keep in mind that in order to make the sign the child needs some coordination, so if you start, let's say, at 1 month it may take longer for him to start, but it will most probably be before than if you start when he is 8 months for example. Also the sign doesn't need to be perfect, at first. Don't worry, they will correct the movement without your intervention as their motor skills develop. With my second, a girl, I was already an advocate of signing, so I started right after she was born and she started signing milk at 4 months! At her 1 year well check her Doctor asked if she was babbling, I didn't know he was going to ask that. I told him I estimated she could say about 20 words and sign about 50. He was really surprised but skeptical and I think he thought I was exaggerating. I wasn't! Long story short, one week before her 18 month well check I asked my mother in law to help me make a list of all the signs, spoken words and sounds she was using. As soon as I get my scanner to work, I will link a copy of the list. So in total she could say/sign/sound 129 words and she was using 2 and 3 words sentences. (i.e. want hot milk, big bird flying). When the doctor asked if she could say 20 words... well, my mom and I started laughing, we just told him she was saying a LOT more then that and put the list back in the diaper bag! I knew she was above average and talkative like mom, but not hat much!
On the way back home in the car she said "FLAG!" pointing to a building on the Hwy, we said simultaneously, I don't think we put flag on the list!! The following days we found some other words we'd forgotten...
Still at almost three and at four and a half, sometimes it goes like this:
"Mom, can I have chocolate?" - "NO!"
"Mom, please!" - "I SAID NO!"
"Pleeeeaaaase Mom!" - "You really think that signing please will help you?"