Teaching sign language to your baby is a practice that is rapidly increasing in popularity because it helps your baby communicate and express needs and wants much earlier than if they had to rely on verbal communication alone. Infants’ hand muscles develop much more quickly than the the muscles used for speech, so it makes sense to teach your baby how to sign before they can even talk.
Experts and proponents of baby sign language believe that this can help avoid tantrums and excessive crying because babies have the desire to communicate, and with sign language, they are able to instead of being constantly misunderstood. If you want to teach your baby sign language, here’s how you can get started:
You don’t have to teach your baby the entire American Sign Language from day one, so never fear if you don’t know much sign language yourself. Learn a few simple signs that reflect what your baby may want or need and teach those signs. Some of the first signs you should familiarize yourself and your child with are: “thirsty,” “hungry,” “food,” “milk,” “sleepy,” “pacifier,” “hot,” “cold,” “play,” and “bath.”
As hard as it seems to believe, babies can actually start learning basic signs at the tender age of 6 months. They probably won’t sign back to you for a couple more months, but they can learn what the signs mean and then start to use them between 7-12 months. At 12 months, you can start introducing secondary signs, such as: “mom,” “dad,” “grandma,” “grandpa,” “dog,” and “cat.”
The most effective way for your child to retain information is for you to make it exciting for them. Instead of making learning sign language into a boring, daily lesson, really get into it yourself! Change your tone of voice, incorporate facial expressions and body movements into the lessons, then both you and your child will have fun while learning.
Your baby may not start signing right away, and when they do begin signing, they may start off doing it incorrectly, so you will need to have quite a bit of patience in the beginning (we’re sure you have plenty of that built-up by now anyway). But try not to get frustrated if your child doesn’t pick up sign language for a while; just like any language, they’ll get it eventually.
Sign often and consistently.
Don’t just sign once for an activity and expect your baby to pick up on it. You’ll need to use the sign before, during, and after the activity to ensure that your baby will get the message. Remember to use the sign every single time your baby does an activity, like eating, otherwise they could become confused if you only sporadically use the “food” sign during a meal.