So what if we tell you there's a way to prevent your little ones from throwing a fit at mealtime, bedtime, and pretty much any time of the day…
Is your baby wailing while you’re pulling your hair out trying to figure out what he needs? Is he hungry? Maybe he’s tired. Nappy needs changing? There are just so many possibilities, and while you’re putting your best guess in and your nose in his diaper, his face is turning red and tears are streaming down.
Now picture this: instead of screaming at top of his lungs, your baby, in his most calm and composed state, expresses his wants and needs. Not with words, though. We’re realistic, and don’t expect bub to utter a word before the age of one at least. He tells you what he needs by moving his tiny hands and fingers in different motions. No tantrums, just gestures. You then glide away and come back with what he asks for.
Sounds like a dream?
It’s the idea (and reality) behind baby sign language. In a nutshell, baby sign language is a collection of simple hand gestures that babies can learn to converse with their parents before they can talk. It’s easy for both parents and babies to learn and it’s been taking the world by storm since the 2000s. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of understanding their little ones’ needs without them having to scream and shout?
Why baby sign language works
First of all, do you really want to wait until bub’s at least a year old for them to communicate with you? Twelve months is a long time. And it will feel longer if everyday is filled with tantrums. Another reason is that signing can reduce frustration and tears, and allow babies to join in and lead conversations. It boosts babies’ self-confidence and makes social time a whole lot more fun. Signing can also strengthen your bond with them, all while improving their motor skills.
If bub is bilingual, sign language is even more beneficial. It helps him make the connection between two spoken languages, accelerating communication and learning. For example, your baby will learn that the word ‘dog’ and the dog sign mean that furry thing that trots around the house. So when you say ‘con chó’, which is dog in Vietnamese, while gesturing the same hand movements, he will soon make the connection that both spoken words mean the same thing.
The start of signing
Baby’s first-year communication timeline goes something like this: cooing at two months, babbling at six, and talking at twelve. At around six months old, they start to rely on their hands to grab things, put them in their mouth, and reach out to signal they’d like to be picked up. There are lots of hand movements at this time. While these motions seem uncoordinated and silly, they show how eager the little one is to communicate, which is why experts believe six months old is the golden mark to kick start baby signing. If your tot’s waving, clapping, and pointing, they’re ready for signing!
Here’s a catch: sign as much as you’d like, but babies won’t sign back until they’re at least nine months old.
Tips for teaching baby sign language
So you’ve enrolled yourself in a baby sign language course. Good for you! To get you off to a good start, we’ve chatted with signing expert Melanie Homer of Chatterbub Signing school and pocketed some useful tips:
1. Say the word and sign at the same time
In order for babies to learn signs efficiently, they need to be put into context. So the next time you want to sign ‘milk’, wait until you’re about to feed, during, and after, to gesture and say ‘milk’. It helps baby make sense of the sign, bridge to verbal language, and eventually sign back to you when they want milk.
2. Start small
Yes, we know all parents are overly ambitious creatures, and the idea of your little person throwing up ten different signs a day seems thrilling. However, that won’t happen, and it’s best to start with a few signs say, three.
3. Repeat, repeat, repeat
Here’s why you need to start with just a few signs: so you can repeat it constantly throughout the day without confusing him and yourself. Use these signs whenever and wherever you can: at home, when you’re at the park, and while you’re watching telly. Babies learn from repetition and consistency, which brings us to…
4. Be consistent
This goes for almost everything baby-related, from sleep training to signs learning. Everyone, and we mean everyone, needs to be doing the same thing.
5. Grab baby’s attention
It’s crucial that you have bub’s attention before you start signing. A high-pitched voice and different facial expressions usually do the trick. Don’t let them fiddle with their stuffed toy when you’re about to teach them.
In terms of which signs to pick, Melanie suggests choosing the first few signs being the ones you use most often daily. That way, parents can naturally incorporate them into their baby’s daily routine. Other signs that we’ve found useful include water, more, sleep, and bath. As you progress, look out for your baby’s signs. Chances are, they won’t make the exact signs since their motor skills are still developing. However, this still counts as signing.
The bottom line
Now, close your eyes and imagine a peaceful dinnertime. Your baby, throughout their meal, signs ‘more’ when hungry, and ‘water’ when parched. They throw their hands up when they’re ‘all done’. You let ’em out of their highchair, and as they waltz in the kitchen towards the fridge, they sign ‘milk’. The clock strikes 8, and you sign ‘sleep’ while telling them it’s almost time for bed. Minutes later, they let out a yawn as they move their hands next to their head. ‘Sleep’, they sign. You then carry them to their room and tuck them in. The evening quietly ends without a mental breakdown.
And it’s all possible because of sign language.