Does that cry mean hunger, thirst, gas, wet diaper, fear, or pain? Trying to decipher a baby’s cries can leave parents feeling frustrated and helpless. To overcome the communication barrier with pre-verbal babies, many parents have begun turning to baby sign language. To help you get started on teaching your little one to communicate her needs with her hands, here's a round-up of baby signing basics.
The main reason parents teach babies sign language is because non-verbal signs can allow them to communicate some wants before they’ve learned how to speak them. Numerous Circle of Moms members, including Erin M., praise the benefits of this communication: “My little girl is 16 months old and I have been signing with her since she was about 4 months…She seems to learn signs quickly and it has prevented screaming, meltdowns and a lot of frustration. I am so glad we started signing with her!” It's a good bonding experience too, say moms like Amber S.: “Totally worth it and a great way to spend time together!”
When to Begin
While you can begin signing to your baby at any age, experts caution that that babies often won’t sign back until at least 8 months. As a result, patience is key, as are consistency and repetition. As Karen T. shared: “I started to sign with my baby around 3-4 months, she started to sign back at about 8 months. I was so excited. We kept teaching her signs as fast as she could learn them…Now she probably knows about 100 signs (including all the letters, numbers up to 20, and lots of colors and animals).” Wondering if you've missed the signing window of opportunity? As Alexandra O. encourages, “It is never too late to start!”
Ready to start? Circle of Moms members and experts both suggest focusing on a few basic words to start. More is often the first sign taught; other key words are milk, Mom, and Dad. As Andrea W. shared: “We started with basic signs such as milk, eat, more, then added 'hurt' (tapping fingers together where it hurt to let us know). Another great sign was 'help'...This helped a lot since, instead of frustration about doing something they simply sign to ask for help. Another great sign to start is 'change (my diaper).' Imagine your child giving you the sign the he/she needs to be changed.”
There are many resources for parents interested in using baby sign language. Baby signing classes, in which an expert will teach basic signs and strategies, are increasingly common. Megan T. shares: “We've started going to a free baby signs class at our local community center, so I'm hoping to be able to broaden our signing vocabulary!” Other moms like Maggie L., self teach through online resources, baby signing books and tutorial videos: “I didn't bother with the classes though. I just got a book from the library and copied the pages with the signs on them and went from there.”
To connect with other moms using baby sign language, join Circle of Moms communities like "Signing Babies-Babies Who Use ASL," "My Smart Hands-Baby Sign Language," or "Moms who Use Baby Sign Language."