Baby Sign…How do you start?
Teach your child sign…help him express his feelings! The “I love you” sign can be used as a special sign for many years to come!
How do you start?
1. Familiarize yourself with signs through books, websites or other sources.
- There are many resources on the web…don’t try to learn all the signs, you will be starting with just a few!
2. Be realistic
- Feel free to start signing with your child at a young age, but most children aren’t able to communicate using signs until around 9 months at the earliest! (yes even your extremely smart, gifted child!:)) Children must be able to engage with you and then have the fine motor control to make the sign (or at least something similar to the sign). This will happen around that 9 or 10 month mark.
3. Choose a sign.
- Most parents choose a sign that involves eating such as milk, eat, more and all done. This will let your child ask for things that he or she may need. Many times these are called “power” words. Once your child is able to sign these words, they have a little control or power.
- You may also want to choose a few signs that may be exciting to your child. Words like Mommy, Daddy, and Dog or other words that excite your child will keep your child’s interest.
- You will want to choose about three signs that you will work on with your child. Show the sign before, during and after the activity and every time you do the activity.
- There are a few websites that have pictures and directions for some of the most common signs a parent may use. A great site is http://www.babysignlanguage.com This site has a video showing each sign.
4. Make it interactive
- Hold your baby on your lap and try helping him make the signs with his hands. Talk while signing to give the sign context. Remember, your baby will be able to understand your words before he will be able to make the sign!
5. Be consistent.
- Use the sign every time you do the activity. Consistency is the key. If you are giving your baby milk, sign and say “milk” give your baby a bottle or nurse and sign and say “milk” several times while your baby is eating.
- Work the signing into everyday life. Don’t just sign at home–sign when you are out and about and encourage anyone who is with your child consistently to use the signs too.
6. Use your chosen signs until your baby begins to sign back to you.
- When your baby connects with a sign, then you may choose another sign and start the process over. Do not drop the signs your baby has learned. The more signs your baby learns, the easier it will be for him to pick up new ones. As soon as your baby links the sign to the word, the flood gates tend to open! Suddenly your child will begin to pick up on new signs readily.
7. Expect your child to recognize a sign before he can actually sign it back to you.
- This is just like the spoken word. A child will understand a sign or a word before he or she is able to sign the word or speak it. Don’t give up, keep signing. You will start to see your child get excited when you sign “milk”, “eat”, or “book” as your child understands what the sign means.
8. Expect that your child may start out using the same sign for several things.
- This is like verbal expression when a child uses the word Ma Ma for every female adult. Do not become frustrated. Continue to be consistent in the signing and your child will “get it”.
9. Expect a signing increase when a child realizes that a sign will get him something…the sign is a link!
- Your child will start to soak up signs like a sponge–just as he will when he becomes verbal. It is so exciting to see your child get excited about communicating.
10. Be happy, sign with enthusiasm.
- An excited parent who signs will make a child want to sign.
- Read books and sign as you read. Show your child the sign for animals, cars, trucks, whatever you are reading about! Pick out signs that your child is interested in!
- Be expressive. Use your face, body and hands when you sign. Make it fun and interesting. Make good eye contact with your child when you sign.
- Play games to encourage signing. Blow bubbles outside and then stop, push your child in a swing and then stop, and then sign the word “more”. Sign when you play!
11. Be open to interpretation.
- Your child will not make a sign correctly the first time–just like learning to talk.
- Reinforce any sign your child attempts, as your child develops better fine motor skills, the signing will become more clear.
- Be excited when your baby signs words! Give lots of positive reinforcement for any attempt!
13. Be patient.
- Babies can take weeks or even months before they make their first sign.
- The perfect time to start is about age 6 months, many babies will attempt their first sign at about 9 to 10 months.
- It is never too late to start signing. Children that are very frustrated because of a lack of communication between 16 and 30 months will pick up sign language quickly.
- Be prepared to be excited and surprised at how your baby can develop signs to communicate.
14. Keep Talking!!
- Sign should never replace words! Spoken words are important for language development. Talk and sign….then talk some more! The number of words your child hears is directly related to language development. Let your child see your mouth as you speak and your hands as you sign. Face to face interaction is important for their language development.
- Other family members: brother, sister, grandma, grandpa
- dog or cat
- Thank you
I would also consider adding change, all done, sleep, and help. These words often help with transition activities which can be a challenge for toddlers especially.
Children often will lose the sign as the verbal word is developed; but you can keep the signs by continuing to use them with the word . Use of signs is a great way to get messages to your child when you are not in speaking distance or are in a crowd. How nice it is to sign the word “potty” without having to yell it across the room! More wonderful is seeing my kids sign “I love you” out the car window as they drive off!
Take a breath, enjoy the joyful moments of each day, and remember you don’t have to be perfect to be the perfect parent.