It’s been proven that by the time infants are 9 to 10 months old, they’re fully capable of knowing what they want; however, they fail to be able to communicate their needs outside of grunting, crying, or “sometimes” pointing. Sign Language is now being used as an effective source of reducing frustrations and tantrums in infants and toddlers and helping them to develop communication skills.
Until recently, the closest I’ve ever come to signing was using it as a “secret” language with friends in junior high. For some reason, we all learned how to sign the alphabet and would talk to each other across the room using our hands. To this day, I can vaguely remember a few of the letters, but I’m barely able to sign a word let alone a sentence or idea.
After reading up on baby signing studies, I wanted to give signing a try for my first born.
Starting at the age of 7 or 8 months we began letting him watch Baby Signing Time videos. These came highly recommended to me by my Baby Boot Camp instructor, and she showed me how they taught her little girl to sign the basics. As a warning, she told me not to get my hopes up if I don’t start seeing results by the age of 1. Although her oldest daughter couldn’t get enough of the videos, when she tried them with her youngest, she wanted nothing to do with them. Prepared for anything, I let my son watch the first video every couple of days. We’d sit down together and sing the songs, and I did my best to start incorporating the signs during our daily routine. Even my husband tried to get involved.
After a few months, it seemed pointless, but one night as I was feeding him a jar of the oh-so-delicious Gerber Chicken Noodle Dinner, he put his fingertips together and actually began to sign “more.” I was in shock!
More was pretty much all we saw for quite a long time, but before I knew it other signs began appearing. Eat. Water. Milk. By the time he was one year, we’d purchased two more videos in the series and they’d become a part of our day. (I know..I know! I let my son watch tv on a daily basis. I’m a terrible mother! Moving on.) I quickly noticed how the signing began to improve his communication with me. When he wasn’t able to say a word to where I could understand it, he’d sign it to me, and I was able to get him what he needed. It decreased the number of meltdowns, and he was now walking up to me to ask or sign to me what he needed.
Now that he’s almost 17 months, signing has become a part of our language. We own all of the Baby Signing Time video series and can practically reenact them for you without notice. Currently, my son uses both signs and words when he tries to communicate. For example, the other day I asked if he wanted another cracker and he told me “More Cracker,” but for the first time signed the word cracker as well! It’s amazing because we hadn’t watched that video in a few weeks and it tells me that he’s been learning this whole time; he’s just been choosing to use the words at his own pace. Since he’s just beginning to develop spoken langauge, I often can’t understand what he’s trying to tell me when it comes to more complicated words, but through signing he’s able to communicate them to me.
One of my biggest concerns about teaching sign language would that it would somehow affect his speech development. (Will he try and replace spoken language for sign language?) As I soon discovered, this worry had no basis! Whether signing is occasionally used throughout the day or as a more permanent form of communication, children naturally want to speak and will learn to develop spoken language at the correct developmental time. It’s also been shown through studies that children who signed as babies are using more speech and language at an earlier age and have a higher IQ than their non-signing peers.
I love the fact that we’ve chosen to make signing a second language for my son. I’m not sure how long we’ll keep up with it as a part of our daily language since signing isn’t a necessity, but while we can, we’ll use it.
I sincerely believe for it to be effective you have to start young and be diligent about making signing a part of your routines. Simply having your 8 month old plopped down in front of a video or cartoon for 30 minutes and expect them to be signing their needs is unrealistic. Give it time and have as many people around your child learn the signs as well. If your child continues to tell everyone they want milk, but no one understands, they’ll get just as frustrated as not being able to say the word.
For more tips on how to start your child on sign language for infants, try these helpful websites and products:
Did you try teaching sign language to your baby?
How did it work for you?
*I was in no way compensated for mentioning any of these products or websites. I’m simply a user of Baby Signing Time and would recommend it to anyone!