Baby Signing

by MotherElf

Baby signing helps parents communicate with babies and young children who cannot yet talk, creating strong bonds and helping to meet the needs of babies quicker.

It is well known that babies and young children who cannot yet talk use gestures and facial expressions to get their message across, but in recent years a more structured process known as baby signing has become popular with many families.

Baby signing is a way of communicating with babies and young children with signs or gestures which represent common words or actions such as eating and drinking. These signs are often based on the sign language used by deaf people in the family’s home country or on movements which look similar to the action they represent, for example touching the lips for being hungry.

What is Baby Signing?

The concept of baby signing was developed in America by two doctors – Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn - in the 1980s. Their research discovered that between the ages of ten and 24 months babies would start to use actions for words before they could talk. For example although they could not say flower, they would sniff as if they were smelling a flower.

From this research the pair came up with the first baby signing system. Their later research found that in families who used baby sign language, babies were less frustrated and also less likely to have tantrums because they could communicate more easily and their needs were met quicker. Baby signing also helped parents and babies to form strong bonds.

The research also found that babies who were taught signing were better talkers at 24 and 36 months and scored better on intelligence tests at the age of eight.

Who Can Use Baby Signing?

Baby signing is usually done with babies who have not learned to talk yet, but it can be used with toddlers who are learning to talk but may not yet know all the words they need or have trouble pronouncing some words clearly.

Most experts suggest starting baby signing when a child is at least six months old because before this age a baby does not have enough control of their hands to be able to sign clearly.

Most babies will recognize signs made by their parents before they start to make the signs themselves.

If your baby has other carers such as teachers at daycare or other relatives then it is important to get them involved in baby signing too so your baby gets consistent messages no matter who is looking after them.

Most babies learn three or four signs to start with and add more as they become more comfortable with the concept.

Getting Started With Baby Signing

You can base sign on your country’s sign language, get a book with standard baby signing suggestions or just make up your own to suit your family. If you do make up your own signs, make sure everyone who looks after your baby understands them correctly.

Try to make the signs logical and easy for your baby to mimic. Start with simple concepts that happen regularly in your baby’s life such as food and sleeping and say the word each time you sign it. Start with just one sign at a time so your baby does not get confused.

Remember that it will take a while for you and your baby to get used to baby signing so do not give up if it does not work straight away. Take it slowly and be prepared to adapt your signs if your baby creates their own sign for an action.

Baby Signing Examples

Eat:  Bring one hand up to the mouth with the fingers closed as if they are holding something.

Drink: Bring one fist up to the mouth with the thumb sticking out so it looks like the teat of a bottle or a straw.

Sleep: Hold up one hand to the side of the head with the palm open and rest the head on it as if resting.

Where: Hold out both hands stretched out to the side with the palms facing up.

Hungry: Rub your tummy

Updated: 10/04/2012, MotherElf
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Rose on 12/03/2015

I hadn't hear of baby signing before - interested in what Brenda Reeves had to say about the dangers though.

BrendaReeves on 09/19/2012

My daughter is a speech pathologist and did this with her first child. It's amazing to see a baby communicating like they do. However, when it's time for them to start speaking, they want to keep on signing. She dropped it with her next two kids.

Mira on 09/17/2012

Interesting idea! Never thought about it.

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