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Baby sign language - should you use it?

One of the many milestones parents look forward to is your baby’s first word. He might have been saying “mama” and “dada” for some time now, but speaking with intent isn’t something your baby will do for another couple of months.

But don’t think your baby cannot communicate because they can’t produce the sounds yet. Your baby comprehends a lot more than you know and is eager to share his needs with you. This is one of the reasons why we love teaching babies modified sign language but is it something you should do?

That is, of course, personal preference. It takes some patience and a lot of practice, but it can be gratifying when your baby uses signs to communicate with you.  

Here are some commonly asked questions and our top tips for introducing sign language.

Will it affect your baby’s ability to speak or delay his speech?

Research seems to suggest that it stimulates babies to learn how to speak. The same language part of your baby’s brain is activated when they use sign language and spoken language, which indicates that it’s like the same experience for your baby. You will also never use sign language without talking to your baby, so he will benefit from hearing speech and learning the sign.

When do you start?

You might have noticed around eight to nine months that your baby is waving or pointing. That indicates that he is making the connection between a gesture or action, a word and an event. This is usually an excellent time to start taking it seriously, but some families might choose to start earlier. Another way to tell if your baby is ready is to use both hands to pick up small objects. Sign language requires a level of dexterity younger babies might lack, and most babies will probably only sign back around 10-11 months if they’ve had consistent exposure.

Do I need to know sign language to teach my baby?

Not at all. Baby sign language is modified and won’t be the same as any official Sign Language (unless your baby grows up within the deaf community). You can make up your own signs to communicate with your baby, as long as they stay the same and are always used in the same context. It might also help to teach your special language to other caregivers so they can also communicate with your baby.

Top tips to get started:

  • Start with a few signs to help your baby express his everyday needs, like hungry, sleepy and thirsty.
  • Repetition is key, so make sure you use the same sign every time you say the word.
  • Start with signs that only require one hand, like tapping your belly for hungry or rubbing your eye for tired.
  • Use sign language within the correct context, e.g., use “hungry” before each meal or “more” after having something to drink.
  • Stay patient! Just as your baby will gradually add more spoken words to their vocabulary, so too will they gradually learn more signs and how to use them.

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