When a baby is in distress and crying, it is not uncommon for parents to struggle with figuring out what their child desires. This process can be frustrating especially if there are no obvious signs of events needing a remedy. Ie. diaper is clean, baby just ate, baby isn’t too warm or too cold, baby was fine being held just a second ago and with seemingly no stimuli baby is now inconsolable. Although babies are able to communicate their distress through crying, they lack the ability to verbalize their needs, so telling parents exactly what they desire is next to impossible. Imagine what this is like for baby. Picture knowing what you want, but not be able to communicate it.
However, if given extra tools, the process of better understanding one another without the use of words becomes much easier.
How is this possible?
Just because babies are unable to formulate words, it doesn’t mean they aren’t able to communicate. They just need to be shown how.
What is baby sign language?
Baby sign language is a method in which to communicate prior to acquiring the ability to speak. Babies are taught the meaning of different gestures to help them better communicate their needs. The goal is to reduce frustration and meltdowns associated with the inability to converse verbally. During this process you are simultaneously flooding baby with language visually (observing signs directed toward them), verbally (hearing people speak to them), and mechanically (baby learning to use signs as a means to express themselves).
How early can baby sign language start?
In theory you can start as early as you would like, but it is important to keep in mind that while babies may be learning the signs, they are unlikely to have the ability to use them effectively until about 6-8 months of age.
How do I start?
There are online tutorials, books, and classes you can take to educate yourself on how the process works. It’s also important to have realistic expectations. In the same way learning any new language takes time, baby sign language is no different. Patience is key. Think of it as an opportunity to spend more time with baby and increase the bond you already have with your child. The idea is to make the learning process fun. There is no need to set aside time during the day to “teach” baby sign language. The idea is for baby to learn organically by putting things into context. For example, associate signs with things you do in everyday life as they’re happening… like “hungry” or “thirsty” or “sleepy” to help baby communicate their needs. It’s also important to remember to continue to incorporate spoken word along with signing to continue to facilitate baby’s speech development.
*Originally published on the Inpathy Bulletin