How to Raise Sign Language Babies

\The moms in my baby massage class this week wanted to know what I thought about baby sign language. What do I think? I think it is wonderful. But I also think if you’re a mom, you already know a lot more about this topic than you may think you know. Let me share a few of my thoughts and tips on “raising sign language babies.

\Looking back to when my girls were born, 8 and 5 years ago, I’m quite sure they were both born “talking.” Beyond all the cooing and crying, each came into the world using their own version of baby sign. Pulling on ears or rubbing eyes? Baby sign for “tired.” Great eye contact and a winning smile? Baby sign for “let’s play!” Looking away and getting real fidgety? Baby sign for “I don’t want to play…too much stimulation for me now…can you turn off the TV and lights, wrap me up real tight in my favorite blankie and hold me please?…thank you!.” Each had their own variation. Once I figured them out, I could “hear” what they were saying just by tuning into their body language. Mind you, I wasn’t 100% accurate as their language interpreter…but boy was it better than nothing!

I’m thinking “Body Language 101” and “Crying to Get Your Parents to Take Action” must be prerequisite courses for being born. So when it comes to the question of whether or not to use Baby Sign Language with your 7+ month old, that’s a no brainer. You’ve already been learning and using it in some form or another since the day they were born. You know this stuff! So now that your baby is getting a little bit older, why not take it up a notch?

Why Learn Baby Sign Language

Scientific studies suggest that “typical” children who learn to sign have higher IQ scores, are better adjusted and read at an earlier age. But if you want my opinion, the REAL reasons to learn Baby Sign are to:

  • foster a vital sense of connection that your baby needs to feel
  • deepen the bond that exists between you and your child
  • strengthen your child’s trust in you and in the world around them
  • avoid the frustration of miscommunication

Learning better communication skills, whether at 7 months of age or 7 years of marriage, is always a good thing. Now assuming you want to continue using sign language with your child, here are a few tips.

How to Start Signing with Your Baby

There are hundreds of hand signs you can teach your baby, words for everything from mealtime and bedtime to bathtime and playtime. For starters though, take it slow. Think of just a couple words you think would be helpful and start there. “Eat,” “drink,” “more”, and “all done” (much better than your child throwing food off their high chair to tell you the same thing!) are my personal favorites and good ones to start with.

Next, be sure to ALWAYS use the word and the sign together and to repeat this combination several times when you know your baby is watching.

Finally, be flexible, be patient…and make signing fun! It will quickly become a part of your daily routine, helping you to both listen to and share with your child, a skill you will enjoy the fruits of for many years to come. I wouldn’t trade the many great, funny and humbling experiences I had signing with my girls (from age 7 months to almost 2 years of age) for anything.

There are great resources out there for learning to sign with your baby. A favorite is the DVD, Baby Signing Time! Another is the book, Sign with Your Baby.

Do you have a great, funny or humbling experience using baby sign language with your little one? Send me your stories!!!

Suzanne, aka Zen Mommy
In addition to mommying to two magical girls born in 2000 and 2003, Suzanne owns a holistic health center in St. Louis, Missouri where she practices as a physical therapist, Certified Infant Massage Instructor and health education teacher. Certified in a number of healing and life education approaches, Suzanne offers life coaching as Zen Mommy Coach.