Baby Sign Language: The Art of Happiness!
Updated: Jun 25, 2019
It must be pretty darn hard being a baby, right? Being a parent of a baby is hard enough (emotionally, physically, and mentally EXHAUSTING), but imagine not being able to move to where you want to go, get food when you’re feeling hungry, or tell your loved ones that you’ve had enough for the day… Ok, that sounds like it could have been written for parents too when they’re pinned down by a newborn, but you know what I mean! For the first year or two of most children’s lives, they are unable to tell anyone what they want or need. (Unless you get lucky and have one of those amazing parents who can interpret each one of your twenty-something different-sounding cries!)
Baby Sign Language can make SUCH a DIFFERENCE! Ok, it’s not going to get baby talking to you as soon as they’re born (thankfully – that would probably freak most of us out!)… but from 6-9 months many babies can start to communicate some basic needs / wants. Much earlier than most will be able to speak. I'm so excited to be introducing it to Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions so let me tell you a little bit more about what makes it so great!
Babies can learn to copy hand gestures (ie sign language) much more easily, and at a much earlier age, than spoken language. Speaking is a very complex process, involving attributing meaning to an audible sound, then making complicated combinations of subtle mouth movements involving lips, tongue, and cheeks, to recreate that sound. Coping a simple hand-movement is way way easier!!
Less Crying… More Smiles!
When a baby wants milk, an extra blanket, or to just go home, they tend to cry to let us know. Babies cry for a reason - but exactly why a baby cries at any particular moment can be harder to work out! I don’t know about you but I tried very hard to interpret my own baby’s cries, listening for the different sounds/tones/intonations for any kind of clue as to what on earth he was so upset about. With very little success unfortunately – most of the time it just sounded like he was shouting at me to be honest. Was baby cold? Hot? Hungry? Needing a nappy change? Teething? Tired? Over-stimulated? Sometimes I’d get lucky and the first thing I tried would satisfy him – phew! But often I’d have to try everything – milk, nappy change, more clothes, fewer clothes, cuddles, songs, toys, bouncer, rattle, going outside, etc etc etc, before eventually something would calm him down. By which time I was feeling pretty shirty myself, not to mention depressed by my self-perceived lack of parenting ability. Then, I learnt baby sign language and started using it with my son. It took a few months (I started signing to him when he was 6 months old and he used his first sign himself aged 9 months) but it was incredible! The feeling of him telling me exactly what he wanted (in this instance: milk) completely blew me away! From then on, he never needed to cry whenever he wanted milk (which was often)! After that he learnt the sign for ‘again’ which he used – yes you guessed it – again and again! I had never realised quite how frustrating he’d found it when I’d been doing something fun like bouncing him on my lap and then stopped. I can honestly say it made us BOTH so much happier and contented. An absolute game changer.
Progression to Speech
Won’t signing delay a child learning to speak properly? That’s what many people (in particular grand-parents in my experience!) assume. In fact, the opposite has been indicated in various studies, with signing babies often learning to speak earlier than their non-signing peers - though of course every child is different. There is an understandable line of thought that says “why would a child bother to speak if they can get everything they want by signing?” but it seems that having their communication understood can often boost baby’s confidence in their abilities and give them the desire to say more and more. By saying the word aloud alongside using the sign, little ones can make the connection and then move onto other words without having the sign language with it.
Bonding & Trust
Physical contact, in particular skin-to-skin, is an important way of bonding with a baby and building trust. Fulfilling their needs is another. Responding to them when they communicate with you, in a way that shows you understand them is another. Baby sign language is a fantastic way of being able to respond effectively and fulfil a baby’s needs without any fuss or stress.
Good for the whole family!
Baby sign language is great for other members of the family / friendship circle too – don’t keep it to yourself! Share the knowledge with baby's dad, grandparents, baby-sitters - anyone your little one will have regular contact with, particularly if it's without you. My husband recently recalled how proud he had felt when he took our baby out for the day with a friend. Our son signed that he wanted some food, to which my husband responded by getting some baby snacks out of the bag – no fuss, no crying. “He was amazed!” my husband recounted, remembering his friend’s reaction. “Is he [the baby] actually communicating with you?” asked the friend. “Yep!” said my husband, (probably trying to keep the smugness out his voice!), and his impressed friend immediately vowed to learn to sign with his own baby.
That's why I'm so delighted to be including baby sign language at Alphatots Sounds & Signs sessions, starting in June 2019! Each week we will learn one more sign, covering all the essentials that will make a real difference to babies lives - and their grown-ups!