I’m serious. Teach your baby sign language. On the face of it, it may seem like another complex and difficult thing to take on in the middle of the year one baby storm but its actually really, really simple. And I promise you, it will make you life so very much easier. I’ll explain why in a minute.
All you need is four signs to start. What you don’t need is a DVD and companion instruction book. That’s just a waste of money. Here are the signs we taught our son starting at about six months of age: food, water, more (food), and all done. The time to start teaching these signs is when your child is at the point he or she can sit up in their high chair and eat from a spoon. Just get in the habit of signing as you interact with him throughout the day. For instance, add the sign for “drink” whenever you ask him if he wants a drink.
Here’s how we signed the list of words above. By the way, I don’t recall if these are official sign language signs or not. One of the rules of baby sign language is go with what works for your baby. And if your baby makes up a sign of their own, all the better. But here are the signs we used.
1) Food: Group the five fingers on your right hand into a point and tap the tips of your fingers on your lips, like a bird slowly pecking several times. Use this sign every time you prepare to feed your baby along with the question, “Do you want some food?” Do the sign when you say the word “food”.
2) Drink: Just mime like your drinking water from a cup that has no handle so your hand is in the shape of the letter C and your thumb is against your bottom lip. Do this sign when you approach your baby with a drink. As you sign ask, “Do you want a drink?”
3) More (food or water): Group the five fingers of both of your hands like you did the one hand to sign food. Then take these two “birds” and touch the two beaks together at the tips of your fingers. Like two birds slowly kissing or pecking several times. This sign can be a little tricky with a baby spoon in one hand, but do the sign whenever you a midway through a meal. Say, “Would you like some more?” Do the sign on the word “more.”
4) All Done: Hold both hands up, palms facing your baby and rotate each hand in an “unscrew a lightbulb” motion. Do this sign and ask, “All done?”
Now, here’s why you want to do this. I mean besides because its fun. Your child will tell you what they want and how much of it they want starting at about eight months. The first time our son looked up at us during feeding and made the “more” sign we all just lit up with joy. In that moment, he saw us recognize his sign language and he knew he could communicate with us. All of this happens months ahead of even starting to speak. His eyes lit up. Our eyes lit up. And we were off to the races.
After that, he began learning hundreds of signs. We taught him signs for most of his favorite foods. And his favorite animals. It became no big deal to put him in his chair and ask him what he wanted. He signed “apple”. (Index finger knuckle to his cheek.) I knew what he wanted and I also KNEW he was ready to eat it. No guess work needed.
When he wanted a drink during a meal he would sign water. When he was hungry he didn’t have to cry. He signed. As he was breast feeding, we taught him a sign for that. Again, he could just ask for what he needed, he didn’t have to cry.
It is a FANTASTIC thing. I kid you not. You can talk with your child and grow that wonderful sense of communication in his eighth or ninth month. Not only that, some folks believe it accelerates verbal development and a number of other cognitive functions. So do it. You’ll thank yourself. And it’ll wow the in-laws.