Baby Sign Language: Useful Tips And Sign Words To Communicate

Baby Sign Language

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Imagine your baby is crying even after a feed. You try to feed again, but the infant wouldn’t have it; you take her out and show the sky and the birds, but she is not amused. You give her favorite toy, but she doesn’t want it. In such a situation, you just want the baby to tell what she wants. But can she?

Yes, babies can communicate with you in ways other than crying, but you need to train them in that. Did you know that babies as young as four months can learn sign language?

MomJunction tells you what baby sign language is, when you can start teaching it, and the benefits of using the signs.

What Is Infant Sign Language?

Infant sign language is a way of communicating with babies using signs and gestures before they develop speaking skills. Signing helps babies express their emotions, feelings, and needs.

Experts believe that introducing sign language to babies early on helps bridge the gap between the desire to communicate and to communicate. Experts also say that baby sign language doesn’t interfere with the development of language in infants (1).

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When Can You Start Teaching Sign Language To Your Baby?

You can start teaching sign language to babies during six to 12 months, when they make an attempt to communicate (2). They can learn to sign back once they develop their motor skills around seven months.

Once your baby learns and begins to use signing, communication becomes easy for the both of you. However, you need to also speak while signing, that way the baby will learn to speak.

[ Read: When Do Babies Smile ]

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Why Should You Teach Sign Language To Your Baby?

At times, you get frustrated when you can’t figure out the reason for your baby’s crankiness. Baby sign language comes handy at such times. Here are some benefits of teaching babies sign language (3), (4):

  1. Reduces frustration: Learning the basic signs such as eat, drink, more, and all done can make the mother meet her child’s needs. It will help avoid the guessing game.
  1. Improves communication: Signing helps your baby to communicate well once they start speaking because they have been introduced to a set of vocabulary early on.
  1. Expands vocabulary: Once babies begin to speak, signers have an edge.
  1. Decreases tantrums: Most of the early tantrums develop because of the child’s inability to communicate their needs. By helping your child learn sign language, you will notice that tantrums decrease as they can communicate more easily using signs and speech.
  1. Increases confidence: Sign language improves confidence and self-esteem in the babies as they know how to ask what they want. For instance, if your baby asks for a cookie and gets it, he is happy and is likely to repeat the signs.
  1. Creates interest in books: When you read a picture book to your baby by signing, it will make them interact better. It increases their interest in books and paves the way for early reading.
  1. Does well in academics: Studies have shown that learning baby sign language has developmental benefits such as speaking early and doing well in academics.
  1. Strengthens the bond: Teaching sign language will make you get down to your child’s level, interact with them, make eye-to-eye contact and describe the sign. This works on your bonding with them.

Teaching sign language needs efforts, but you would want to know if it’s worth the effort.

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[ Read: How To Make A Baby Laugh ]

Is Sign Language Good For Babies?

There is no concrete evidence to prove that the sign language is advantageous for babies. Though it is being increasingly publicized and endorsed in the recent times, further research is required on the subject as the existing studies have not proven its usefulness beyond doubt.

However, the studies (5) (6) conclude that people cannot be encouraged or pushed to teach sign language to their children, but they should not be discouraged either.

Therefore, if you do not want to teach the language to your baby, you may not be at a disadvantage. But if you want to try signing, then you can go ahead without hesitation.

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How To Teach Sign Language To Your Baby?

The following strategies can help you teach signing to your baby:

1. Articulate:

When you are signing, say the word and show the sign. Accompany the sign with facial expression; it clarifies the meaning.

2. Repeat:

Repetition helps in learning the sign language quickly and easily. You need to expose these signs to your baby on a daily basis by:

  • Incorporating the word/ group of words into your routine
  • Creating opportunities to use those words frequently
  • Using the words in which your baby is specifically interested

3. Encourage:

Once your baby begins to sign, encourage their efforts. And for that you need to:

  • Recognize the early signs of signing in your baby
  • Check how your baby is developing their signing skills
  • Come up with different ways to support your baby’s signing

4. Make it fun:

Make your baby enjoy the learning:

  • Incorporate signing into your baby’s favorite activities such as walking the dog, playing with toys, eating their favorite food, etc.
  • Induce some play into signing and set aside a particular time and place for it.
  • Add some amount of drama to your signing; your baby will love it.
  • Animate your signs, for example, when you sign hungry, put a long face and roll your hands fast on your stomach.

[ Read: Signs Of Baby Teething ]

5. Expand the vocabulary:

Add more words to your training sheet once your baby has learned the basic signs. Here is how you can do that:

  • Use learning aids, such as picture books, props, and flashcards
  • See what interests your baby and follow them. For example, if your baby loves animals, then introduce signs related to animals
  • You can add signs related to a single theme. For example, if the theme is a dog, then you can add the signs for a leash, kennel, dog food, dog bone, etc.

6. Keep it interactive:

Teach the signs as if you are talking to the baby. Keep asking them questions. They may not respond to you but will acknowledge your question with a smile or a twinkle in their eye. Also, sign when you bath, diaper or feed them.

7. Be patient:

Do not get discouraged if your baby is not showing interest or is unable to grasp the signs. They might catch up in a few days.

For the baby to understand the language, begin with some simple, everyday signs.

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Easy Sign Words For Beginners

Here are some common signs you can start with for your baby. Most of them are based on American Sign Language (ASL). You may also go with some generally used signs as well.

  • Male signs: All male members (dad, brother, grandfather) – sign above the nose.
  • Female signs: All female members (mom, sister, grandmother) – sign below the nose.

I. Basic/ routine signs:

Routine signs are used to help your child express their basic needs on a daily basis, such as:

  1. Mom: Open your hand and tap it on the chin.
  1. Dad: Open your hand, tap it on the forehead.
  1. Water: Make a ‘W’ by keeping your three middle fingers straight, joining your little finger and thumb and bringing the hand back and forth to your lips.
  1. Eat: This is an easy sign to teach babies. You just have to close your fingers and put them in your mouth.
  1. Bread: Put one hand in front of your chest with the palm facing inward, and cross it vertically multiple times with the other hand as if you are slicing bread.
  1. More: Bring the fingertips of your left and right hands together. Then, make both the hands touch each other at their finger tips.
  1. All done: Show your empty palms and turn them towards your chest. It shows you have nothing in your hands. It helps babies move from one activity to another.
  1. All gone: Move your hand, palm up, backward and forward.

[ Read: When Can Babies Drink Water ]

  1. Where: Show your index finger and bring it down in a zigzag motion.
  1. Sleep: Run your fingers slowly from your forehead to your chin while closing your eyes.
  1. Change: Twist the fists back and forth; it indicates it’s time to change the diaper.
  1. Bath: Pretend as if you are washing your chest or scrubbing your body.
  1. Help: Place your right hand in a thumbs-up position on the left hand. You can also sign your baby to ask if they need help by tapping your chest with both hands.
  1. Playtime: Fold the middle three fingers making a ‘Y’ and swing your hands back and forth.
  1. Ball: Make a circular shape with your hands and pretend as if you are holding a ball.
  1. Please: Rub your hand over the chest in circles.
  1. Thank you: Touch the lips and then move the hand out as if you are blowing a kiss.

II. Animal signs

  1. Dog: Pat your thigh.
  1. Cat: Trace the whiskers of the cat on your cheeks.
  1. Rabbit: Wrinkle up your nose or hold up two fingers.

II. Baby’s favorite foods:

  1. Cereal: Place your hand like a bowl and spoon from it as if you are eating cereal.
  1. Apple: Knuckle your cheek with two fingers.
  1. Peas: Point your index finger and tap it with the other index finger pointing to peas in a pod.
  1. Banana: Stick your thumb out and pretend to peel it like a banana.
  1. Carrot: Fold your fist, bring it to your mouth and pretend to munch carrots.
  1. Milk: Fold your hand, make a thumbs-up and move it up and down as if you are milking the cow.
  1. Sweet potato: Place your four fingers on your chin and then put two fingers on your fist.
  1.  Avocado: Make a letter ‘A’ and pretend to mash the fruit.

[ Read: Bottle Feeding The Baby And Tips To Follow ]

III. Emotion and motivation signs

  1. Read: Spread your palms and keep opening and closing them like a book.
  1. Share: Place your palm facing you and with the other hand cut it half indicating your baby to share.
  1. I love you: Fold your middle and ring fingers inside and keep your thumb, index, and little fingers pointing upwards.
  1. Happy: Hold your hand horizontally and press it against your chest. Repeat the movement back and forth from your body.
  1. Sad: Put a sad expression on your face, raise your hands up and bring them down.
  1. Hug: Cross your arms and touch your shoulders. Move back and forth to animate the sign.
  1. Scared: Tap your chest again and again.
  1. Kiss: Close the fingertips to form an apex and place it on your pouty lips. Move the hands from lips to your cheek.
  1. Good: Place your hands one over the other with the palm facing you. Raise one hand to your chin and bring it back.

IV. Other signs:

  1. Medicine: Rub the center of your palm with your middle finger as if you are mixing a medicine. This sign is useful when you want your baby to take syrup.
  1. Hot: Put out your hand and withdraw it quickly.
  1. Cold: Raise your shoulders slightly and clench your fists and hands and shake them while bringing it close to your body.
  1. Again: Place one hand with palm pointing upwards and slightly hit it with the fingertips of the other hand.
  1. I want: Bring your hands towards your chest.
  1. I don’t want: Bring the hands towards your chest and brush it away sideward indicating, ‘I don’t want’.
  1. Car: Steer an imaginary wheel.

The signs are simple and meaningful. And if you follow some tips, teaching becomes easier.

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Tips To Teach Sign Language To Babies

Here are some useful tips you may use:

  1. Apart from the basic signs, know the signs your baby is interested in or would be interested.
  1. Look for opportunities to teach signs. Ideally, mealtime is the best time because your baby is sitting in the high chair and you would be able to maintain eye contact.
  1. You need to talk to your baby while signing so that they can imitate you and learn to speak as well.
  1. Get creative in your signing. For example, use a teddy bear to sign during meal time.
  1. Sign in context. When you are in the kitchen, signs about the recipes, utensils, etc., and when in the zoo, sign the animals.

You may also use some training tools in your mission.

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[ Read: When Can Babies Have Dairy Products ]

Tools For Easy Learning

Use them only after your baby is familiar with your training. Here are some of the common tools that can help you do that:

  • Interactive DVDs with rhymes, stories, and gestures will improve your child’s focus.
  • Use as many flashcards as possible. They are available in different sections such as people, foods, animals, plants, etc.
  • A teaching guide is useful in case you need a special boost to your module.
  • A signing dictionary will help teach your baby the right signs.
  • A time-tested method, wall charts create a strong visual impact on the young minds.

These are some easy ways to help you teach baby sign language. But remember, signing enhances communication skills but does not replace speaking skills.

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It can only be used as a bridge until they learn to communicate. Baby sign language inspires you to speak clearly, with varied emotions and increased pitch variations. It keeps babies engaged while learning happens automatically.

Did you use baby sign language? Share your experience with us in the comments section below.

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