Baby Sign Language
During infancy, Summer’s needs seems simple. A cry may only means of either she needs milk, her nappy is soiled, she wants to be carried (she always does!), she hates her car seat or she smells a stranger. But there were times I felt clueless and frustrated, and I ended up researching during late night feedings, hoping to crack the code of each cry.
One night, I came across Baby Signing and an idea sparked a light bulb…and joy (KonMari style, ha!). I wanted to lessen the frustration in communicating with my daughter and at the same time, I wanted to give her the confidence to send across what she needs, in other ways than crying.
What is Baby Sign Language?
Baby sign language is a form of communication based on American Sign Language (ASL), allowing infants and toddlers to communicate what they need or want, or how they are feeling even before they learn how to talk.
When and How to Start Baby Signing?
A month before we introduced solids to Summer — she was 5 months old then — I started signing. I chose the signs that made sense to her and relatable with her everyday routine. And those are MILK, BOOK, and BATH. At 6 months, I started signing EAT, MORE and ALL DONE. Then slowly added, BISCUIT, GRAPES, STRAWBERRY, YOGHURT, PLEASE and THANK YOU as she mastered the previous signs.
I am a working mom, and I know my goal will not be possible without involving the entire household. My husband was the first one I shared my idea with and my purpose, which he fully supported. I taught myself and practiced first by watching videos and looking for picture guidelines. When I found an easy guide in the internet, I printed them out and posted them on the wall where everyone can see. Then, I brought the idea to my Mom and our helper, who were looking after my daughter.
At first, they were hesitant and found it funny when I let them try each sign. I have to be patient as baby signing is not the norm within our circle. Same as how I introduced the baby signs to my daughter, I first taught them how to sign milk, while saying the word out loud and holding the bottle with my breastmilk. My instruction was to sign while speaking the word out loud, and ensure that Summer is looking at them to make it easier for her to see the connection of each sign.
It took time and getting used to. But eventually, they got the hang of it. When Summer started signing at nearly 6 or 7 months old, the entire household was ecstatic! And they felt encouraged to learn more! My helper eventually became so proactive in asking how to sign a certain object or food and then teaching it to Summer.
What Are The Benefits of Baby Sign Language?
I felt so happy when everyone became comfortable in using baby sign language at home. Especially when Summer started signing back! The household noticed that communication became smoother and Summer was not having any tantrums caused by frustration. They easily became aware if Summer needs milk, wants more food or if she felt full.
Funny thing was, my helper usually do demos with other kids and nannies, showing off each signs Summer can do! Let’s just say she was just proud.
A common misconception of teaching a baby how to sign is that it can hamper the speech development. Contrary to that, Summer was an early talker. At 8 months, she can utter a word or two and can speak fluently at nearly two years old. She naturally stopped signing when she was around a year and a half. I like to believe that signing encourages her to speak, as she already gained confidence and self-esteem in communicating with adults around her through signing.
Baby signing is very helpful and should be given a chance in every household. Start with the most relatable word(s) for your toddler, like MILK or BOOKS. Then add more as you go along. Involve the whole household because consistency is the key in teaching a baby how to sign. It takes a village, and you as a leader needs to lead by doing.
It is also important to manage everyone’s expectations. Most children starts signing at eight months old, some maybe later. Just keep on signing consistently, be patient and don’t get discouraged if your child is not yet signing back. Be observant and praise your child once you notice the first try of signing, an approximate copy of what you did.
And lastly, look forward to less frustration and better communication with your toddler! Aside from signing, talk to your child more and spend time reading together. Remember, you are the number one teacher and cheerleader of your child.
If you want to learn more about baby signing, you may check out my favorite resources:
Have you heard about baby signing before? Are you planning to learn and use it to communicate with your toddler?