Have you ever thought about how it must feel to be a baby? Imagine you’re doing your very best to communicate with the people who you know are trying to take care of you… but they can’t always understand you. Of course, we all know our baby’s cues and sometimes even their cries. We know that rubbing eyes is a sign of tiredness, shoving their fists into their tiny mouths is a sign of hunger, an inconsolable cry may mean a very full diaper. But what if there was a way to teach your baby to communicate their needs with you even more clearly?
I’m here to tell you that there is a way: sign language! Sign language is an amazing tool that many people use to communicate. Babies are more than capable of learning some simple sign language to help communicate their own needs before they are capable of spoken language. This is beneficial to both the child and their caregivers. Sign language helps babies connect to other people around them, which makes for happier babies and better bonding! You can start signing to your baby as early as you’d like, but six months is generally the earliest that a baby can be aware of it and start intentionally signing. However, it’s also never too late to start using sign language, especially if you have an older baby or even a nonverbal toddler.
Start with “Everyday Use” Signs
Since the purpose of teaching sign language to babies is functional communication, you want to start by introducing signs that your baby can use to get their needs met. These can include the signs for milk, more, diaper, all done, sleep, and water. Of course, everyone is different, but these are the signs that I believe to be the most useful for babies! If you’re starting to sign with a baby younger than one, I would start with milk. It’s a sign that you can demonstrate multiple times a day as you offer your baby a bottle or your breast. The sign for milk can mean any type of milk that’s relevant to your baby: formula, breastmilk, or cow’s milk for older babies.
Use Real ASL Signs
It’s important to remember that ASL (American Sign Language) is a real language that is used by many people as their primary means of communication. Teaching your baby sign language is an amazing tool that we can use, but it’s important to be respectful of ASL by learning the proper way to use signs. We wouldn’t change an actual word or pretend to make up our own word in a spoken language to communicate with a baby.
My favorite resource for proper ASL signs is from an Instagram page called Sign n Grow (@signngrow). The creator, Mary Smith, is an ASL interpreter whose mission is to teach true ASL to parents so they can teach to their babies! You can also find her on YouTube, where she has a whole visual library of more than 100 signs. Watching a video is the best way to learn a sign. It takes out all the guesswork and shows you exactly how to do the sign! I love Sign n Grow because of Mary’s credentials and her passion for respecting Deaf culture. Check out her YouTube, linked below, to start your signing journey!
Just like learning any new skill, the key to helping your baby pick up sign language is consistency. The more you show your baby signs, the better they can start to build brain connections that will lead to comprehension! Every time you fill your baby’s water cup, say “water” and show them the sign. When you take them out of their high chair, say “all done” and sign it too. The more you sign with your baby, the more likely it is that they’ll pick it up and start to imitate you. The first time your baby signs will be a huge accomplishment for baby and you too!
Remember that signing is fun! There’s so much you can do with sign language. First and foremost, it’s a perfect way to build connections with your baby. Sprinkle sign language into your favorite songs to sing with your baby, like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Play games like Peek a Boo with your baby and add a sign! There’s so much that you can do with sign language.
Have you taught your baby any sign language? Let us know in the comments what your baby’s first sign was! My baby’s first signs happened in the same day- milk and all done!