Engaging with your infant using sign language is rewarding for both parents and children. Even if you only learn and teach a few basic signs, it's a great method for early communication (before a child can speak words) and creates positive interaction between you and your baby. Sign language for babies is different from typical sign language in that the baby signs are often a simple gesture or signs that have been modified from actual sign language to make it easier for a baby to repeat.
Benefits of teaching your baby sign language:
Less Fussing and Frustration - Communication is an important part of any child's development. Babies will know what they want or need before they can communicate these feelings or needs into words. Baby sign language allows the child to express themselves through basic signals. For example, when a child learns to use a simple gesture to let you know they are hungry, there is less fussing and guessing as to what might be upsetting your little one.
Parental Bonding - Sign language for babies also has bonding benefits between the parent and child. Teaching baby signs allows for parents to actively interact with your baby and share the joy of even unspoken thoughts and feelings. Making eye contact and gently demonstrating the sign with your child will be a rewarding experience and stimulate the development of your baby.
Building Confidence - When a child can communicate their needs or feelings there is a sense of accomplishment. In turn, this can help build your child's confidence. There may even be the potential for a larger vocabulary of words and basic combinations of words or small sentences as your child grows older.
Development of Fine Motor Skills - Using hand gestures is helpful in developing those fine motor skills. Initial signs will take time for your baby to learn the control over certain muscles and have the dexterity to form the hand gestures. All of this is good practice for a developing baby.
Things to Keep in Mind:
Demonstrate and Be Consistent - It's important that you the parent use these baby signs yourself. If you are putting your baby down for a nap, use the sleep baby sign. You can use the sign for food when feeding and the sign for drink when your baby drinks from a cup or bottle. The more you use them and demonstrate them you are reinforcing the gesture and understanding of the gesture.
Be Patient - Keep in mind your child may not being using the signs or gestures until they are 8 to 14 months. All babies are different in their development. The more you use the signs reinforces the gestures which is more helpful to your child.
Starter Words - To begin, choose a few easy words like: Sleep, Food, Drink, I Love You, Hungry, More, Ball, Cat, Dog. In time you can incorporate more words but keep it simple in the beginning.
Keep Talking - Remember to keep talking to your child. Verbal communication is important in the development of speech. Also use the spoken word when demonstrating the baby sign allowing your child to make the connection of the baby sign to the verbal word.
There are many resources available both on and offline. Here are a few good books to help get you started.Books
Baby Sign Language Basics - by Monta Z. Briant
Teach Your Baby to Sign, Revised and Updated 2nd Edition - by Monica Beyer
Signs of a Happy Baby - by William Paul White
* The tips above are the opinion of the writer and not meant as professional advice. Always check with your pediatrician.