Baby sign language — a modified version of American Sign Language used with preverbal infants and toddlers — is an amazing way to communicate with your little one. The purpose is to help children too young for verbal cues to communicate via signing, which may help avoid the frustration of unmet needs due to inability to "say" what they want. While it's not a substitute for basic gestures (like reaching to be picked up), it's a good companion for social development communication and a unique way to bond. In fact, the benefits of signing with your baby are certainly something you should consider before opting out.
Laura Berg, founder of My Smart Hands, a baby sign language program and author of The Baby Signing Bible, tells Today's Parent the ideal ages to begin signing with your baby is "between four and eight months." This is when you'll be doing the bulk of the signing, "until they've developed motor skills to sing in return (between six and eight months)." Choose a few common signs to start, but don't stop verbally speaking with them, as they each are important to their development, according to The Mayo Clinic.
The Mayo Clinic goes on to add that you should be realistic with your expectations, persistent with the repetition of speaking and signing those common words, and most of all, remain patient. As with all things associated with parenting, patience is key. So, still on the fence about signing? Well, here are a few of the benefits you could be providing for your child:
Communication bridges the gap between misunderstanding and understanding. And if your baby can't properly communicate their wants and needs, how can you possibly provide both? BabySignLanguage.com says signing together strengthens your bond with your baby, writing that it also, "increases that feeling of closeness." With a few key moves, you and your baby could be on the path to better understanding one another, which can only make your bond that much stronger.
Dr. Joseph Garcia, who founded the "Sign With Your Baby" system tells, ABC News that a baby's brain is fully capable of learning to sign, and "the more signs babies learn, the more it could reduce those tantrums that come with the terrible twos [because] they're not as frustrated with communicating what's on their minds."
If your baby can "tell" you want they want, it's less likely they'll become frustrated or throwing a tantrum because of it. If you teach your baby signs for things like "hungry," "milk," or "tired," you're giving them a way to communicate before they become verbal. This should eliminate your own frustration, too, when it seems impossible to figure out why your baby is fussy.
Dr. Sharri Garrett tells ABC News:
"You should say the word as you're signing the word. What we've found is that children will actually start speaking sooner when you pair both the gesture and the word. And typically once they have the verbal words, they'll drop the sign out."
Once your baby masters the signs that help them communicate, it's a Domino effect, transferring into other developmental areas, specifically language, communication, and because of the direct eye contact with signing, social skills.
There's a lot of ways to teach your baby things, and those lessons don't have to be boring to be effective. Think of each sign as a new, interactive game. When you go back-and-forth signing, it's not only education, it's fun. And in the end, that's the ultimate goal, right?
According to PsychCentreal.Com, "infants who learn baby sign language also are thought to gain psychological benefits, such as improved confidence and self-esteem." If your baby is capable of communicating their needs, they're bound to feel good about themselves. Psychologist Dr. Gwyneth Doherty-Sneddon of the University of Stirling, UK, explains further, saying that while there's still more research needed to establish long-term, concrete evidence, there's a distinct connection between a "vocabulary and mental development." Couples with less tantrum-throwing and a stronger bond with their parent(s), would make any child more confident.
If communication is the foundation for all relationships, why not begin establishing that foundation as soon as possible with your child? Signing won't fix all communication breakdowns, but it might give you an alternative while you're waiting for your baby to become verbal.
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