Baby Sign Language: When & How to Start
New parents spend a good portion of the time before their kids learn to speak trying to decipher their baby’s needs. It’s often a primary source of frustration. However, there is a simple thing your family can do to alleviate this stress: baby sign language.
Babies can learn a lot pretty quickly, and sign language seems to be one of the skills they can be fairly proficient in at a young age – around 8 months old. Signing, or symbolic gesturing, can help your baby communicate their needs much sooner than they’ll learn to voice them. Read on to learn about the why, when, and how to start teaching your kids baby sign language.
Benefits of Baby Sign Language
Teaching your baby a few simple signs can help your family in a multitude of ways. Among them is being able to communicate with your baby long before they begin speaking. Being able to communicate their needs sooner will cut down on stress for the entire family.
There are also emotional and cognitive benefits of using baby sign language. Emotionally, being able to communicate with your baby brings you closer. Studies have found that families that implement signing feel closer and more “tuned in” to each other, as well as reducing moments of distress for children and increased confidence in parenting skills.
Meanwhile, your baby can reap the cognitive benefits of learning a new language! This includes early development of reasoning skills as well as a larger speaking and reading vocabulary. Research has also shown that babies exposed to signing are more likely to have an increased IQ, a +12 point average above their peers.
How to Teach Your Baby Sign Language
If all those sound great, you might be wondering how to teach baby sign language to your kids. The principles are very much the same as learning any new language: Keep it fun, use repetition and encouragement, and regularly expand your vocabulary.
First and foremost, make it fun! Practicing your signing together is a great way to bond with your baby. Making it fun is important to not only make it enjoyable for both of you, but having fun also helps your baby learn faster. Our young ones will follow the cues of their caregivers well into childhood. So, it’s up to you to set a playful tone when it comes to dedicated practice time. Additionally, if you notice your baby being fussy or distracted while practicing their signing, then we recommend putting practice on hold until they are in a better, more receptive mood, even if this means deviating from routine.
Repetition is key to learning any new skill. We suggest creating daily routines that involve signing to help form a strong connection between the signs and their meaning. Also, keep in mind you can sign before, during, and after an event to aid in repetition as well.
Encouragement is a universal incentive to keep going and babies especially thrive off it. Remember that babies lack the fine motor skills to perfectly execute signs, so they’ll likely start with approximations of the correct sign. Be patient, as their mirroring of your signing can be delayed as they work to coordinate their movements – and always encourage effort, not perfect execution.
Expand your baby’s sign language vocabulary regularly, but allow their interest to dictate which signs are introduced. While we list a few of the most helpful signs below, teaching signs that are most relevant to your daily life and needs will help keep your conversations flowing.
Basic Baby Sign Language to Teach Your Baby
Below are some of the most basic signs that most families start with when teaching their baby sign language. However, we’ve also included some more advanced signs like Potty, Sleep, and Hurt because of how helpful they can be while your baby is still pre-verbal.
- Mom: With your hand open, tap your thumb on your chin.
- Dad: With your hand open, tap your thumb on your forehead
- Milk: Open and close your fist like you’re milking a cow.
- Eat: Put your thumb and fingers together like you’re holding a chip and tap your lips. Use this only with solid foods to avoid sign confusion.
- More: Using the same hand shape as Eat above, but instead of tapping your lips, tap your hands at the point of your fingertips.
- All Done: Twist both hands back and forth while your hands are open, going from showing your palms to the back of your hands.
- Yes: Shake your fist like it’s a head nodding yes. Mimic this by nodding your head as well.
- No: Tap your index and middle finger against your thumb, like how you would make a puppet talk. Shake your head no as well.
- Potty: Make your hand into a fist, with your thumb between your index and middle fingers. Then, shake your fist back and forth, similar to how you’d ring a bell.
- Sleep: Hold your hand with your fingers spread over your forehead. Close your fingers as you move your hand down to your chin.
- Hurt: Extend your index fingers and point them at each other. Twist each hand like you’re using a screwdriver, twisting each hand the opposite way from one another so they alternate directions.
When to Start Teaching Your Baby Sign Language
All of this might sound wonderful to new parents. However, before you go and try teaching your newborn how to use baby sign language, you should know that the optimal time to start incorporating signs is between 6 and 9 months. This is just a few months before the typical time frame that babies begin to speak their first words. While you can start to implement baby sign language into your daily routine earlier, you likely won’t see much response until the 6-9 month mark.
From cutting down on stress to creating more opportunities to bond, teaching your baby sign language has benefits for the whole family. Use these baby sign language tips to add another skill to your baby’s list and open up the channels of communication even sooner!