As your infant gets older, she will start to understand her own feelings and needs better, but she still won’t be able to effectively share them with you yet. It can be frustrating for both of you when she’s trying to communicate with you, but hasn’t developed the verbal skills needed to successfully let you know what she needs and wants. Baby sign language can bridge the communication gap and give your baby a way to let you know what’s on her mind. It helps you more quickly understand what your child is trying to say and avoids many of the tantrums and meltdowns that frustration over not being able to communicate brings on. It also is a wonderful way to connect and bond with your baby.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of signing with your infant.
Make it fun. Above all, signing is a way of connecting and bonding with your baby. When you make signing a natural part of your day with him and turn learning time into fun time, you’ll see the best results. Children learn best through play, so introduce and practice the signs during play and relaxation time. You can incorporate signs into songs, word plays and other fun activities you already do with your child.
Don’t expect a response too early. You can start signing to your baby as early as you want to, however, infants aren’t able to understand or respond to your efforts until at least 8 months old. For many, it could be months later. Like any other way of communicating, there isn’t anything wrong with introducing it early and practicing it often. Just don’t pressure your child to embrace signing until he’s ready.
Be realistic about your expectations. Some babies will have more of a natural interest in learning sign language. Others may enjoy the bonding time and interactions with you, but may not latch on to baby sign language as their way of communicating. Let your baby lead the way. Baby sign language is only one way to communicate with your child. If your child doesn’t jump on the signing bandwagon, don’t worry. With time and attention you and your child will develop a system that works for you.
Don’t overwhelm your baby with too many new signs at once. It’s easy to get excited about signing and want to show your baby more and more signs each day. This is especially true if your child has been frustrated at not being able to verbalize his feelings, wants and needs to you and now he suddenly can. However it’s helpful to focus on a few key signs and allow your child time to master those before moving onto additional ones. Soon he’ll have a full signing vocabulary.
Share the signs with other caregivers. Teach anyone else who is caring for your child which signs are his favorites. This can avoid some tearful moments when Grandma or Aunt Maude is babysitting. If your child has gotten used to requesting milk or more cereal through signing, it’s frustrating when the adult he’s trying to communicate with doesn’t understand him. This also gives friends and family members a wonderful way of connecting and bonding with your child.
Start with signs related to things your baby is already interested in. Of course babies will naturally be drawn to learning signs that represent the things in their lives they’re already interested in. Mom, Dad, milk, more, dog and cat often top the list. When choosing which signs to introduce, take your cues from your baby. If he regularly has two cups of milk at lunch time, the sign for more is probably a great one for him to know. If he loves cuddling and playing with Huck, the family dog, the sign for dog will help him communicate his love for his playmate.
Talk, talk, talk with your child too. Signing is a great way to expand your child’s ability to communicate with you, but signing should always be accompanied by talking. By speaking your thought as you sign, you help your child develop important whole language skills. Knowing both the word and the sign for things will help him easily transition from non-verbal to verbal communication.