By: Rachael Bilello, DO (MD Kid Care, Jericho, NY)
Language development starts way before your baby starts talking. As you speak, sing and laugh around your newborn, he is listening, looking and processing. Infants communicate their needs by crying, smiling, laughing, squealing, staring, moving and looking away. And then they start vocalizing! Between the oohhs and aahhs, coos, gurgles, and babble they are quite adept at getting their point across from a very early age. All of these are normal developmental processes that babies go through.
One of my favorite things to teach my kids was baby sign language. Around 5 months I began teaching them, and around 9 months they began picking it up. It was amazing!! Typically around the 9-month mark, babies know what they want, but they can’t always communicate it successfully. It was so much fun to be able to communicate in a new way with my little ones. My daughter asked for “cookies” and drew my attention to “birds” outside before she could actually say any words!
I loved the book, Baby Signs: How To Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk by Acredolo, Goodwyn, and Abrams. I found it a great resource for getting started.
The gist is to choose four signs and do ONLY those four signs. This will be for a few months! They first have to grasp the concept. The four signs you choose should be somewhat usable and relevant. I used “more”, “milk”, “all done” and “bath”. I suggest making the sign and saying the word aloud every time you use it. Once it clicks (different ages for different babies) they’ll start using the signs too. Once he starts using them deliberately, then you can introduce more and he will pick them up at a much faster pace. (We even had flashcards; keeping FUN in mind). Once they master a few signs, then the sky’s the limit!
Always keep in mind this is fun and should be like a game for the baby! Baby sign language does not take the place of learning to speak, it actually helps to develop communication skills. Don’t be discouraged if your baby doesn’t “get it” right away, or when you think he should. All babies develop at different paces. Before you know it, your little one will be saying the words along with the signs!