I am not a baby person. I never was. I was never in line to hold the baby at family functions or baby showers. Babies scared me. Too many things could go wrong and I didn’t want to be the one responsible for any harm coming to someone else’s baby. But then, I had one of my own.
Along with the birth of my baby came a walloping dose of Postpartum Anxiety (PPA) and I had even more trouble than your average new mother learning how to change diapers and breastfeed and bathe a newborn while healing from a C-section. I had to get on medication to help me cope. I even hired a doula to teach me how to get out of the house with the baby.
In general, though, I’m great with kids. Kids. Like 3 years and older kids. Those kids can walk. And talk. In order to get through the baby years I decided I needed my child to talk. And fast.
So, I signed us up for a baby sign language class. Now, most of you mothers out there are thinking, “Yeah, I did that. My baby could sign ‘more’ and ‘milk’.” That’s great. But, there is so much more to baby sign language than your child asking for more milk. So much. Like speaking in full sentences much.
I should clarify that the point of baby sign language is not to take the place of talking; it is to speed up the talking. Unlike some hearing impaired people who sign, when you use sign language with a baby you always accompany the signing of your hands with words. You always say the word as you sign it. Every single word. Every. Single. Time. That’s the repetition babies need.
The point of baby sign language is not to take the place of talking; it is to speed up the talking.
And their little brains will quickly make the connection between the visual of your signing with the sound of the word. Sign language forces you to use both sides of your brain simultaneously which builds synapses. So a side benefit of signing with your baby is increasing their IQ.
The only reason babies don’t talk sooner is that they physically can’t. Their vocal cords are not developed enough to make the sounds. But, they do get what’s happening around them. Much more than you realize.
For example, after about a month of weekly classes which involve saying a lot of rhymes and signing while we sing, we were out for a walk with the stroller. My daughter looked up and saw the moon out during the day. She quickly signed “cow.” I looked up and it took me a moment but I realized she was signing cow because “the cow jumps over the moon.”
I was shocked and said, “Yes! Yes! That’s right.” I wanted her to know I understood what she was communicating. But, that’s just it. She was communicating and a pretty sophisticated concept at that for 10 months old.
Another time, at 11 months old, after hearing me say, “Ouch” because I got a small boo boo, she signed, “I’m sorry.” That means she read the situation, searched her brain for what to say, found the correct sign, and used it at the correct moment. When I told my psychiatrist father that story, he said it changed his understanding of childhood behavior and human potential forever.
And, by the way, I don’t think this happened because my daughter is a genius. Do I think she’s smart? Yes. But I attributed her synaptic connections to the repetition of signing and speaking. I took her to weekly sign language classes for 9 months from age 9 months to 18 months.
My child started speaking 4 and 5 word sentences at 1 1/2 years old. That is not the norm. Most children are only speaking in 2 word sentences like, “Me play” or “No sleep” around 18 to 24 months. They are not using verbs or adverbs or adjectives. But my daughter was.
Now, I cannot attribute her advanced speaking solely to the weekly class. I worked my ass off in between classes putting the sign language I was learning with her to use. Every time I said, read, or sang a word that I knew in sign language, I signed it. No matter what and no matter where we were. At home, in the car (safely of course), out in public, at the store. Everywhere. All the time. And it paid off.
Every time I said, read, or sang a word that I knew in sign language, I signed it.
Now, my PPA paid off as well because that’s was made me so adamant about signing incessantly. I not only wanted her to talk. I NEEDED her to talk. I had to get out of that baby phase as quickly as possible. If I could communicate with her, it would help me heal. So, it was partly selfish. But the benefits to both of us were innumerable.
For my daughter, many things happened that I can’t unequivocally attribute to her learning to talk early but I can only imagine that it helped. She was easily potty trained by 22 months. She has extreme understanding of story structure that we know from the questions she asks. Her empathy for others is through the roof. Sometimes, if a character was hurt in a book, she would cry for them.
She could also spend most of her time learning about the world around her instead of trying to tell us she needed a diaper change with her cries. She could express herself and her emotions very early on. And, as affirmed by a psychologist, she is very securely attached to her father and I as it is common for babies who learn sign language to be. She learned her colors and numbers and body parts at 11 months and signed them before she could say them. She learned to sign and say please and thank you very early and she now has great manners.
And, at 3 1/2 years old, she started spontaneously reading words in a book. Now, to be fair, she has also been in preschool since 1 1/2 years old with older kids in a Montessori program and receiving reading instruction. But her ease with language stems from those early days of me signing like a crazy person. Her teacher told me once how remarkable it is that she is so verbal so young.
. . .
Here are some other things I did that helped my child speak early:
- We did not use a pacifier. We tried but she never took to it. I believe because her mouth wasn’t always stuffed closed with a binky, she was physically able and available to start saying words.
- I wore her in a carrier whenever possible. Doing that means your baby is listening to words more often, whether it’s you talking in her ear or hearing you have a conversation at the store or with a friend. The more exposure to talking, the better.
- I narrated everything I was doing even before we started using sign language. Talk all the time. Tell them, “ Mommy’s picking up the toy” or “I’m putting the dishes away.” That’s really your only job, talk to your child. That’s what they say about the first 3 years: talk, read, sing. It works.
- Don’t use contractions or slang. I said, “cannot” instead of “can’t” or “did not” instead of “didn’t.” And I see now that my child does the same. To me it means that she heard and understood every word. I would also never say, “wanna” instead of “want to.” I think the more you use good pronunciation of full words, the better. I am a former actor and a writer, so well-spoken English is important to me and I wanted to pass that on.
. . .
The more you talk to your child, the sooner they will talk. If you can, do a baby sign language class, even online, or learn it on your own and use it with your baby as much as possible. I promise they are getting it even if you don’t think they are. The sooner they learn to communicate, the sooner you can get on with being a mom instead of a baby whisperer. Stop whispering. Talk. And talk loudly. If you put in the time to learn baby sign language, you will be glad you did. And so will your child. They may even be able to tell you that.
. . .
Let’s stay together. Keep up with me and my writings here.
This post was previously published on A Parent Is Born.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Unsplash