Beyond Baby Talk

Teaching infants to sign before speaking.

In working with my own kids as well as many other infants, I have found that children’s ability to learn and understand often goes far beyond their ability to communicate with words. Teaching babies Sign language allows them to communicate their needs, build their confidence, reduce their frustration and strengthen their bond with their parents.

When my daughter Emily was 13 months old, she started enjoying a lot more of the foods the rest of the family ate. The only problem was she would get hungry and impatient waiting for me to cook. In response, I would pick up Emily and show her the food I was cooking. I’d tell her, “The food is cooking, and we have to wait.” Then I would show her the sign for “cook.”

Emily quickly understood and signed it back to me while making the “C” sound. This helped my daughter understand that the food was coming. As a result, she learned to wait patiently. Next, I taught Emily the sign for “hot.” This came in handy in teaching her not to touch the food until it had cooled down a bit. A few days later, Emily used the same sign to tell me that her bare feet were hot when walking outside on a summer day. Thank goodness she could tell me! I was thrilled that my daughter could use the word in different settings and contexts.

Ben, my third child, was the most shy and slowest to verbalize of my kids. He had a hard time pronouncing things. He especially struggled to get his mouth to produce the “R” sound, and he frequently omitted the “S,” “Th” and “Ch” sounds in many words. The poor little guy got so frustrated when people couldn’t understand him. He would either avoid talking and interacting or start screaming and throwing a tantrum. I’ve worked with many parents who have dealt with similar problems. They tend to feel overwhelmed and confused because they don’t know how to help their child.

With Ben, I decided that anytime I discovered what he was trying to say I would teach him the sign for that word. By the time he was 11 months old, Ben could sign eight sayings: mom, dad, eat, more, up, all done, dog and bed. It was like a miracle had occurred. Ben now knew I could understand him if he used a sign. I could then help my son learn how to pronounce the words he was verbally struggling to say. Sometimes, when I didn’t even know Ben was tired, he’d sign bed to me. It always surprises me how smart babies are, and most of the time parents have no idea how much their child understands.

Ben has continued to build confidence, avoid tantrums and socially excel. I truly feel that signing has enabled Ben to progress when he otherwise would have fallen behind and consequently lost confidence.

You don’t have to wait until your baby struggles with words to begin teaching basic signs. Babies can begin to learn to sign as soon as they recognize basic cause-and-effect patterns and have the motor skills to form signs with their fingers.

Pay attention to when your baby reaches some of these developmental milestones. This is a crucial time to engage your infant in learning new things. Babies are extremely curious and their minds are like little sponges, ready to absorb the world around them.

Teaching your baby Sign language adds a new and exciting stimulant to your child’s development. By using this form of communication, you help your child to experience multiple forms of learning, including kinesthetic, visual and auditory. With baby signs, you always say and sign the words. Studies show that the more ways information is absorbed by the brain the easier it is for the child to learn. Parents who communicate with their babies via Sign language are amazed by how much information their babies already understand and retain. And because signing is entertaining, it holds a baby’s attention longer than many other forms of learning.

Baby Sign language is an exciting way to help your little one get a head start in life. It’s easy, has incredible lasting benefits and it’s fun!