How to teach babies to use simple sign language?

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Q: I’ve heard of teaching babies sign language before they can speak. How can I try this with my baby?

A: Sign language for babies is a trend that seems to have real autonomy. Signing with Babies is based on the simple observation that children can learn to use their hands to talk long before their mouths can catch up.

From what we’ve seen with our own children and others (including at Laura’s nursery school), baby sign language really delivers on its promise of improving communication. This is especially appealing to new parents, given that there is a well-known gap between what babies and toddlers want to say and what they are able to say.

It makes sense that young children who don’t have the verbal skills to say what they want, feel or need will experience frustration, especially between 8 and 9 months (when babies start to really know what they’re up to). they want) and 18 to 24 months (when they usually start speaking their minds).

If basic sign language can help babies use their hands to better express themselves by 8 or 9 months of age, it can mean closing that communication gap that would otherwise last for months.

Signing with babies can also provide an opportunity for many positive interactions, and anything that increases the parent-baby bond is a good thing in our book. A creative idea we love: start adding signs to popular baby songs, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”

There’s nothing wrong with teaching young children to recite the ABCs of sign language, but the most useful signs, especially for infants and toddlers, will be those that convey more than the letters. of the alphabet. The signs you’ll want to start with are the ones that are most meaningful or used to describe the things your baby sees, does, or wants most often.

Start with these and you’re sure to strike up a conversation: Airplane, Baby, Ball, Bird, Blanket, Book, Cat, Cup, Cold, Dad, Diaper, Dog, Done, Drink, Eat, Go, Goodnight, happy. , help, hot, hurt, i love you, milk, mom, more, nap, no, outside, please, sit down, sleep, star, thank you, stand up, water. There are many videos and primers online to help you with the signs that go with these words. Google “baby sign language” and you’ll find plenty of help.

It’s easy to see why so many parents swear by baby signing, why many daycare centers include it in their infant and toddler classrooms, and why it’s become so common as a baby signing activity. daily learning. Here are some general tips to help you get started:

• Be patient: The baby-signing trend is based on the observation that babies who learned simple signs at 6 or 7 months could start using them to communicate as early as 8 or 9 months. While there’s no reason you should wait until your baby is 6 months old to start, we encourage you to be realistic in your expectations for any real signs of success.

• Express yourself: Make sure you don’t reduce the time you spend talking with your baby. As long as signs don’t replace talking, it won’t prevent your baby from learning to speak with his words as well as his hands.

• Make it a habit: As with most things your baby will learn, repetition is essential. For a better chance of success, make signing a daily habit and use the same signs each time for what is transmitted. Tapping your fingers on your lips could mean eating, for example. Bringing the fingertips of both hands together can tell more. Make sure to be consistent with your signs.

• Sign what you see: Use signs to describe routine activities and common objects that make up your baby’s world as they happen.

• Don’t be heavy-handed: Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t get the cues well or picks up on them right away. Remember, the goal here is to have fun communicating and reduce frustration, not add to it.

• Share your signs: Be sure to share your signs with your baby’s other caregivers so everyone can join in and understand the conversation once your baby starts signing. And if your baby’s child care provider is the one teaching your baby sign language, be sure to ask for a quick tutorial so you understand what your baby wants when he starts talking to you.

Dr. Laura A. Jana is a pediatrician and mother of three and teaches at Penn State University Edna Bennett Pierce Prevention Research Center. She is the author of over 30 books for parents and children. Dr. Jennifer Shu is the Medical Editor of HealthyChildren.org, a mother and practicing pediatrician at Children’s Medical Group in Atlanta.

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