Communicating with your baby is not always easy. It would be so much easier if he or she could speak. Well it’s almost possible! A growing number of families are using a form of sign language to communicate with their babies.
Most of the time we understand our baby’s needs. But imagine your little eleven-month old telling you, by a hand gesture, that she wants you to sing the song you just finished again! Or your little eight-month using a gesture to say that he wants milk. This is what sign communication allows.
Researchers working with deaf children discovered this technique more than twenty years ago. They realized that these children started to “talk” with their parents around 7-9 months rather than the usual 12-18 months. And it also works with “hearing” children.
The reason is simple. Language skills develop early in babies, long before they have the necessary motor skills to coordinate the tongue and vocal cords muscles. On the flip side, the motor ability of small hands are well developed when the capacity for language appears. So if a baby cannot say “milk”, he or she can make a gesture meaning the same thing!
There are plenty of resources for learning to use sign language with your baby. Signing workshops are available in most cities. There are also many books available. And there are online dictionaries for sign vocabulary.
But the foundations are very simple. Simply start with a small number (two to three) signs for common objects or activities such as “milk”, “eat” or “more” and use them whenever the opportunity arises. When your baby begins to use them, you can introduce new signs to expand the vocabulary.
Consistency and continuity are the keys to success. This means being consistent in the way you make the sign, but also in the context when you use the signs. For instance, if you sign “milk”, do it every time you give milk to your baby. And always sign the same way. This helps your baby recognize the sign and associate it to its context.
It is also important to maintain consistency with other people looking after or spending time with your baby. The more people around your baby signing with him or her, the more likely he or she will use signs to communicate. The sign vocabulary becomes more “rewarding” because it allows him or her to communicate with more people.
It therefore makes sense to introduce the concept and explain how it works to the people who interact most often with your baby: your partner, siblings, grandparents, and of course, your nanny. But don’t be surprised if people are wary Some people will likely asked if it will cause a delay to the development of spoken language (the answer is no, quite the opposite).
If your baby already signs, it’s usually easy to convince doubters. If not, it might take a little more effort. Videos on YouTube that show how well this works can help you convince them.
And rest assured, it does not make it harder to find a nanny to help you care for your baby. A nanny who is interested in your kids should be happy to find ways to communicate better.
As explained above, the principles of this are very simple. You just have to show your nanny the signs that you are using, and the context in which you use them. It is important to also point out the signs that baby is likely to use and how he or she signs as it is normal for babies to do an imitation (rather perfect replica) of the sign as you do it.
You will likely find that your nanny appreciates an additional way to communicate with your baby and that your baby will pick up sign language easier when surrounded by people signing.
Francis Lacoste has been interested in sign language for babies for more than six years. He used this technique with his three boys and wrote a hands-on guide to help parents who want to use this method. Connect with Francis on Twitter @SignerAvecBebe Photo by_David Van Horn_ under license _cc-by_.