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Parenting: Teaching your baby basic sign language
by Kate Anderson
Nov 24, 2011 | 1363 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Your baby has been crying for two hours. You’ve tried feeding her, bathing her, cuddling her, distracting her with a favorite toy or book, changing her diaper, and giving her a drink of water. Nothing helps. If only she could tell you what she needs!

Surprisingly, there is a way for her to tell you—through baby sign language. Babies as young as 6 months old can be taught simple signs to communicate their needs, helping to eliminate the frustration felt when two people cannot communicate with each other. By eliminating this frustration, signing also helps reduce the amount of fussiness babies experience. Caregivers experience higher self-confidence and self-esteem when they are able to more effectively meet the needs and communicate with their babies.

You may question the effect of baby sign language on speech development. Surprisingly, baby sign language actually accelerates speech development! In fact, for children with speech delays, one of the first treatments recommended by most speech pathologists is to begin signing. Babies who learn how to sign experience shared communication earlier than their peers, and this improves cognitive and emotional development. Research has shown that babies who are taught how to sign exhibit verbal skills beyond those of their peers until after the age of three, and have higher I.Q.s at the age of eight.

So now that you understand the benefits of signing, you might wonder how to get started. The easiest way to start is to think of words that you wish babies could say—such as “More”, “Food”, “Drink”, “Tired”, “Change”, or other basic needs. You can easily find all of these signs online or in books from the library. You can even modify or make up your own signs if you wish! As long as you are consistent, it doesn’t really matter if your signs are ASL or something you came up with on your own.

It’s important for babies to hear you speak the word and see you sign it, so make sure to always speak as you sign. Choose one or two signs to begin with and be consistent. Say and sign the word and help your baby sign it with you. Most babies take several months to pick up on signing, but once they figure out that they can use their hands to tell you what they need, you’ll be surprised by how quickly they learn more signs!

Whatever your reason, teaching your baby to sign can be a fun and rewarding part of early childhood.
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