Ask the experts: Baby sign language

As new moms, it’s hard to figure out the right way to interact with baby. So this month, we’re exploring various topics that will help moms just like you understand the benefits of interacting with your tot from a young age. To kick it off, we’ve asked the world-renowned Laura Berg, President and Founder of My Smart Hands and author of the book, The Baby Signing Bible: Baby Sign Language Made Easy to offer her answers to our common questions regarding baby sign language.

babygirlsignlanguage1. What is basic sign language?
Basic sign language refers to American Sign Language (ASL). Most parents chose to use ASL when signing with their babies, as it is a recognized language of the deaf used by many people across North America. Parents are choosing to use ASL signs versus made-up signs because they see the value in teaching their baby a real language that they may be able use in the future. It is also easier to look up an ASL sign rather than having to try to memorize made-up gestures to use on a consistent basis.
2. How does sign language help mother and baby interact?
The main advantage for mom and baby is the decreased frustration and anxiety your baby will experience if they are able to communicate his or her needs to you. If your baby is less frustrated, it will certainly make your life less frustrating. Happy baby means happy mom!
Signing is also a great way for mom and baby to bond. It can be hard sometimes being at home with a little one who doesn’t talk back to you. It’s a day filled with one-sided conversations. When you sign with your baby it adds a nice dimension to your day. When you are feeding your baby you may take longer because you are pausing between mouthfuls to ask your baby if they want ‘more’ while you sign the word ‘more’. If you are reading a book you may take longer because you are not only reading the story but you are also signing key words on the pages. You also have a lot of face-to-face time with your baby because you are sitting with him or her and teaching a sign. You are seeing that your baby sees your hands and you are taking his hand to show him how it feels to make the sign. That face-to-face time is truly a special time spent between mom and baby.
By adding that dimension signing deeply enhances your relationship with your baby.
3. When is the best time to start baby sign language?
If I had to pick when the ideal time to start signing with your baby I’d say between 4-9 months. However, the ideal time is really based on the parent’s personality. If you are the type of person who is dedicated no matter how long it takes I’d say start as early as you’d like. If you are the type of person who needs results now then I’d wait until your baby is a little older. Some parents start too soon and then give up because their baby doesn’t sign back fast enough. This particular type of parent would have benefitted from waiting a few months longer before beginning to sign with their baby.
I also don’t want parents to think that they’ve waiting too long to start signing with their baby. If your child is say, thirteen months, you will still find signing beneficial. Some children, when they start talking, don’t pronounce the words clearly. If you don’t understand what they are saying they may get very frustrated. If that child is able to show you the sign for the word then you can quickly understand what your baby is trying to say to you.
4. Can signing delay a baby’s speech?
The answer to this is 100 percent no! There have been zero studies that have shown signing hinders speech. In fact, all of the studies on signing with babies show that signing accelerates language development in many cases. People can sometimes confuse speech and language. Speech is the oral aspect of communication or the ability to form meaningful sounds to produce language. Language is the structure we follow to make our message clear. A baby who signs is using a language, more language in fact than a non-signing child. Some children don’t develop the ability to speak until much later than other children. The reality is babies want to talk, they babble all the time. When they are able to talk, they will. It is not easier to sign than talk. However, when you don’t have that ability to speak yet, signing is an easier alternative and a great bridge until speech does develop.
Parents should have zero concern that signing would have any hindrance in their child’s language development.
5. How does sign language benefit baby’s development?
Sign language can benefit babies in many ways. The biggest way is that you are giving your child a meaningful language to use before their speech develops. Children have the ability to sign long before they can talk and by using sign language they are able to use language before they start to talk. There are also the educational advantages that signing brings a child as they get a little older. Signing babies tend to have larger vocabularies once they start talking because they’ve been able to use more advanced language and can often ask more elaborate and meaningful questions because their comprehension is clear to the parent.
Another advantage is that babies who sign tend to have high self-esteems as a result of being secure in their surroundings. If a child can easily express his or her needs to you then they are going to feel a sense of security. They want something, they can tell you what they want, and you can quickly and easily fulfill his or her needs.
6. Is it hard to learn?
Learning how to sign with your baby is very easy. You can easily learn the signs at the same pace as your baby. You simply can simply look up a word to a sign that you want to teach. Use that one sign for a while and once you are comfortable with it simply add another one into your signing repertoire. To start, I would recommend picking one or two signs until you become comfortable with signing. Milk is a great sign to start with!
You will love the bonding that happens with your baby when you sign with him or her. It adds a great element to your life!

Share This Story!