By Laura L. Brady, AuD, CCC-A,
Cleveland Hearing & Speech Center
Teaching your infant Baby Sign Language can help improve his or her communication skills. This is particularly appealing for new parents, given that there’s a gap between what babies and toddlers want to say and what they can verbally express.
Sign language can help ease frustration for children between the ages of eight months and 2 years. At this age, children begin to know what they want, need and feel, but don’t always have the oral-motor and verbal skills to express themselves. Basic sign language can help decrease frustration for both caregiver and child, promote early language skills and enhance the bond between the infant and those who sign.
A research study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) compared two groups of 11-month-old babies to observe the effects of teaching infants sign language. One group was taught Baby Sign Language and received verbal training. The second group was given verbal training only. The study concluded that the signing group exhibited verbal skills three months ahead of the non-signers at 2 years old.
Tips for Getting Started
- Familiarize Yourself – As you begin to teach your child Baby Sign Language, familiarize yourself with signs through books, websites, videos or other sources. Like the hand wave for “bye-bye,” many signs have a motion – videos can be particularly helpful.
- Use the “True” Sign – Take the time to learn the accepted sign so that others who know sign language will understand your baby and vice versa.
- Set Realistic Expectations – You can begin signing with your child at any age — but remember that most children aren’t able to start using baby sign language on their own until about eight months old. Also, babies often “approximate” a sign – they may not yet have the ability to do the hand-shape or motion correctly – and that’s OK.
- Keep Signs Simple – Choose signs that relate to your child’s daily activities. In addition to using formal signs, use natural gestures, such as pointing and the hand movements that accompany nursery rhymes like the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
- Make It Interactive – Try placing your baby on your lap, with his or her back to your stomach. Try hand-over-hand signing – do the sign yourself then gently hold your baby’s arms and hands to help with making signs.
- Real Time/Here and Now Signing – Use the sign paired with the activity. Sign “eat” as you eat, sign “book” as you are holding a book, sign “book” and “all done” as you finish the book, sign “milk” as you show a bottle.
- Keep at It – Don’t get discouraged if your child doesn’t use the signs correctly or takes a while to use them. The goal is to help improve communication — not perfection.
- Speak and Sign – Keep in mind that it’s important to continue to voice the sign you teach your infant.
- Sing and Sign. Learn and add signs to your child’s favorite songs like “Twinkle Twinkle,” “You Are My Sunshine” and “Old MacDonald.”
- Share Your Signs – It’s important to share the signs with your baby’s other caregivers so everyone can join in on, and understand, the conversation once your baby begins to sign.
Finger-spelling while singing the Alphabet song is fine, but the most useful signs for infants and toddlers are those that are part of your child’s daily life and serve a function for what your baby wants, needs or is doing right then. If your baby loves trucks, learn the sign for “truck.” If your baby loves the Baby Shark song, learn the sign for “shark.”
The following is a list of early favorites:
|I love you||Milk||Mommy||More||No/Yes||Please|