An introduction to baby signing
Childhood Development expert, Anastasia Moloney, discusses ways to Increase your ability to communicate with your Infant while decreasing frustrations through baby signing
Long before a child speaks their first words, there is a need to communicate their wants and frustrations. The ways an infant may try to communicate can include different tones of their cries, reaching, pointing, or pushing away. As your child grows, their desire to express themselves grows faster than their ability to communicate —which ultimately leads to frustration. Below are a couple suggestions on how to help your child learn to communicate their needs—and to keep your sanity!
A great tool to help with early communication is through using “baby signs.” Learning just a handful of signs can dramatically help you and your infant communicate. Baby signs can be introduced early on in your routines, but don’t get frustrated if it takes a little time before your child catches on.
For my little guys, I started with the following simple, but VERY useful signs: eat, more, all done, help, and please. Below are a few images that demonstrate how to make these signs. However, as long as you both understand what is trying to be communicated, the exact way the sign is performed is not important.
The best way to introduce and teach signs is during an activity in which your child is highly motivated. Use the signs for “more” and “help” to encourage them to request more food, blow more bubbles, or help them to reach a toy or other object. Signs such as “eat” and “all done” can be used to model part of your daily routine or when ending an activity. “Please” is a great one for requesting items or actions in general. As you use these signs, be sure to pair them with the matching spoken word to help them reinforce their verbal skills.
Help is a sign we use frequently in our house, since when my kiddos feel frustrated with a toy they would either drop it and move on or end up throwing it across the room–that was until we mastered help. Knowing they can ask for help with a task gives children confidence to explore more challenging toys and activities, and hopefully limit their frustrations. While there is much to be said for letting a child figure things out and develop problem solving skills, you also need to encourage asking for assistance so they are willing to explore and try new things.
“All done” and “more” are other signs I find helpful with eating or an activity they enjoy. Sometimes it’s hard to know whether your child wants “more” or instead are “all done.” Facial cues can tell you this, but it’s great when they learn to communicate this.
Create opportunities for practice by starting with smaller amounts and ask them if they want “more.” However, avoid doing this with all their foods as you don’t want to discourage eating. Another great way to practice are games such as peekaboo; when you know they are enjoying it, stop and prompt them to indicate they want “more.”
When introducing signs, model them: use hand over hand to help them make the sign, and give them plenty of opportunities to imitate or do it spontaneously. This can be achieved by waiting and allowing your child to try and communicate rather than assuming their needs.
Once your child is communicating their needs, you can start to learn how to sign other things they encounter in their day. Learning the signs for barnyard animals is a fun example of how to expand on this new skill. Just be sure not to forget what the ultimate goal is: verbal communication. So, whenever you can, talk, sing, and hum to your little one. They’ll be chatting you up before you know it!