Baby sign language — when babies use modified gestures from American Sign Language — can be an effective communication tool. Teaching and practicing baby sign language also can be fun and give you and your child an opportunity to bond.
Limited research suggests that baby sign language might give a typically developing child a way to communicate several months earlier than those who only use vocal communication. This might help ease frustration between ages 8 months and 2 years — when children begin to know what they want, need and feel but don't necessarily have the verbal skills to express themselves. Children who have developmental delays might benefit, too. Further research is needed, however, to determine if baby sign language promotes advanced language, literacy or cognition.
To begin teaching your child baby sign language, familiarize yourself with signs through books, websites or other sources. To get the most out of your baby sign language experience, keep these tips in mind:
- Set realistic expectations. Feel free to start signing with your child at any age — but remember that most children aren't able to communicate with baby sign language until about age 8 months.
- Keep signs simple. Start with signs to describe routine requests, activities and objects in your child's life — such as more, drink, eat, mother and father. Choose signs that are of most interest to your child. In addition to using formal signs, encourage meaningful gestures, such as pointing and the hand movements that accompany nursery rhymes.
- Make it interactive. Try holding your baby on your lap, with his or her back to your stomach. Embrace your baby's arms and hands to make signs. Use signs while communicating with your baby. To give signs context, try signing while bathing, diapering, feeding or reading to your baby.
- Stay patient. Don't get discouraged if your child uses signs incorrectly or doesn't start using them right away. The goal is improved communication and reduced frustration — not perfection. However, avoid accepting indiscriminate movements as signs.
Keep in mind that, as you teach baby sign language, it's important to continue talking to your child. Spoken communication is an important part of your child's speech development.