Baby sign language

One of the ways you can support your child’s early methods of communication is through baby sign language.  This set of simple hand gestures or signs takes the complexities of speech away.  This then leaves your child’s mental resources available to concentrate on the message they are trying to communicate. 

Through Baby Sign, your child can gain a way of making themselves understood.  It is is deeply gratifying for them and enhances the bonds between you. 

There was some original concern that teaching children baby sign would in some way hinder their speech development.  However, these fears have been unfounded as children’s spontaneous speech and use of language has shown no lagging or hindrance.  In fact, babies have been shown to speak earlier and in longer, more complex sentences when they have known baby sign first.  What’s more, this is quickly left behind when its use is no longer needed.

Start by considering the words you use the most on a day-to-day basis as you decide which baby signs to start with.

A good time to start is when your child is between 4 and 6 months old as they are becoming more aware of the nature of communication.  There are then different approaches to teaching your baby the signs, but the basic principles are the same.  Firstly, wait for eye contact and then repeatedly say the word while making the sign and performing the action.  For example signing “milk,” saying the word and giving your child bottle as you purposefully demonstrate the signs intention. 

Wait for eye contact, repeatedly say the word and perform the action

It is unlikely that your child will start making signs on their own until they are about 6 to 9 months.  These early months are all about consistent repetition. The process does take time, so start simple and be patient with words of relevance and importance to your baby.  In time you can string more than one word together.  And things get really exciting when they start stringing together words in combinations that you had not introduced them to! 

While your child will not start to verbally string words together until they are in their third year, with baby sign this can start much earlier.  A 10-month-old with Baby Sign can confidently ask for “more milk” as they begin to bring words and their meaning together.

Your baby will soon be using two-way communication with ease. 

You can also devise your own signs, so think about the words that would be really useful in your home.  You might like to try “nappy change” maybe or “Daddy’s home”.  Provided you are consistent, and the process is fun, you can proceed however you like as you promote your child’s communication.  You might also like to share what you are up to with your child’s carers or the extended family as everyone joins in the fun and your child revels in their new found skills.

This article is taken from our course: What Every Parent Should Know

Dr Kathryn Peckham is an Early Childhood Consultant, author and researcher and the founder of Nurturing Childhoods.  Providing all the knowledge, understanding and support you need to nurture your growing child.   www.nurturingchildhoods.co.uk

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