Some friends of ours have two little girls. Right now they’re four and five years old and have no problem talking. In fact, they never stop talking, which is pretty normal for their ages. However, when they were babies, our friends discovered, like most parents, that their girls would get frustrated when they couldn’t make themselves understood and would generally go into a meltdown after trying and failing to get across their wants and needs.

To help their daughters try to communicate even though they couldn’t talk, our friends decided to teach them sign language when they were still very little. They started when the youngest was about six months old and it was pretty amazing how much the girls learned in a short amount of time after a month or two of repeated signing from their parents.

Getting Started
Sign language becomes a viable form of communication with your baby at about six months of age. At first, you will be the one signing to your child, and after a few months they will begin to sign back once they understand. In the beginning, teach your child need-based signs because these are the simplest. Teach them signs for:

  • Eat
  • Drink
  • More
  • Milk

You can also choose to throw in fun signs as well, such as “cat” or “dog” if you have a family pet. The trick is to be consistent and expressive. Also, remember that your child is just learning, so if they don’t get the sign just right, that’s ok. They won’t say words correctly either when they begin to speak. Also, if your child makes up a sign for something, let them. It just means they understand the point of signing and are trying to communicate with you.

Get Your Children Motivated
To help with motivation, start signing at significant points of the day. Don’t sit them down in the middle of the day and try to teach them what “sleep” is or wait until bedtime to teach them what “eat” is. Start at breakfast and use the sign for “eat” when you give them breakfast, or sign “milk” before breastfeeding. During naptime, use the sign for “sleep” or even “blanket” if they have a special security blanket they like the best.

Use different times of the day to repeat signs during appropriate activities that give your baby or toddler a concrete example of the sign. Also, if you use signs throughout the day, your child will want to copy you and learn.

After this, the process is fairly easy. When your child eventually learns more and more words for things, have them start talking and signing at the same time. They will eventually understand more comprehensive signs and use them along with spoken language. Sign language doesn’t become obsolete when your child begins talking. My friends still have their children sign things when they get their words mixed up or become overwhelmed. It can help a child think about what they want and communicate it in a way that’s simpler or easier for them.

Source: Start ASL. "Sign language for infants." Start ASL. n.d. Web. 5 Jan. 2014.

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