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Effective communication is one of the things needed in order to establish a secure relationship with your baby. The better you are at sensing your baby’s needs, the better you get at addressing them. This results in a strong bond between the two of you.

Aside from the spoken language, which they start to develop after around 6 months, there is another way you can communicate with your baby and that is through baby sign language.

Considering how quickly information reaches the different corners of the world, you may have already heard of it.

But what really is baby sign language? What can it do for you and your baby?

What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language is the use of gestures together with spoken words to improve communication with an infant. 

It is needed because the fact of the matter is, babies can’t talk. Signs are used in order to give them an avenue to express what they need and to interpret what is being said to them.

There are studies that suggest it has a number of benefits to the child’s spoken language development later on. Among the reasons why parents use baby sign language is to reduce frustration in terms of relaying and interpreting messages exchanged with the baby. 

Imagine this scenario. You are a first-time parent. Your baby is crying. Normally it’s because they are hungry. But not this time. They reject you when you try to breastfeed them. You try to cool them with a fan because it might be the heat. Again, it’s not. It takes you a lot of tries to figure out what they need and sometimes, it can be very frustrating. 

Baby sign language is used to establish a more effective way of “talking” to your baby.

Is it the same with ASL?

No.

Although baby sign language is a much-simplified form of sign language, they are distinct because the latter, just like spoken languages, is a natural language that follows a set of grammar rules and a certain structure. The former, on the other hand, is very flexible and is not bound by such complexities. 

In other words, if a parent decides to use baby sign language, it is not necessary for them to study sign language grammar.

Why is it easy for infants to understand baby sign language?

The relationship between gesture and spoken language can be traced back to how the infant communicates in the earlier stages. 

It can be noted that babies perform gestures, with or without corresponding sounds. When they want to touch something, you notice that they do that closing and opening gesture with their little hands toward the object. 

The opposite is not possible; you simply can’t see an infant make sounds without gestures. (Now that I think about it, it’s quite creepy.)

This just goes to show that children first express themselves in gestures prior to using the spoken language.

What are its effects on the baby’s cognition?

Communication Skills

Baby sign language is thought to improve the baby’s communication skills. We have mentioned earlier that gestures are a precursor to spoken language. Considering this, it follows that the better they are at interpreting ideas on a visual level, the better they’ll be at expressing and articulating them using auditory means. They are directly proportional. 

Vocabulary

Enhanced skills in performing gestures improve the child’s cognitive ability to perceive language. Mastering gestures give children the avenue to explore concepts and ideas, which are important in expanding one’s vocabulary. The more children understand what’s going on around them, which is aided by baby sign language, the more effective they are in forming words for it.

Intelligence

There are studies that support the correlation between mastering baby sign language and a higher IQ. There was a study on the subject involving 140 babies, which lasted for more than 16 years. It has been said that when the participants were tested, their scores showed they generally have higher IQ (at 12-point average) than those whose parents didn’t use baby sign language. 

When is the Appropriate Time to Do it?

The perfect time to start using baby sign language should coincide with the language acquisition timeline. 

Around 7 months, most babies already start with their syllabic expressions. This is usually the time when you can hear their “first words”, “ma ma ma”, “pa pa pa”, or “ba ba ba”. The first time they utter their first words greatly vary but you should expect them up to 12 months. 

Given this timeline, most parents start with baby sign language at around 6 months after birth. However, research suggests that the earlier it is, the better.

The Process of Integrating Sign Language Words for Beginners

The first thing you need to do is read information about baby sign languages. There are a lot of resources you can check out on the internet. In fact, what we have below are free printable sign language words you can use at home.

This guide is extremely helpful if you want to have an in-depth understanding of baby sign language. This article on mind-minded parenting will also help you get a clearer picture of the goal you want to achieve.

After learning about it, the best thing you can do is pay attention to the gestures your child does. It’s very important to note that your child should not be forced to master a gesture that is both complex and foreign to them at the beginning. The signs you’ll start with should be based on the gestures your baby already performs. Later on, if you think your child is already able, you can incorporate more gestures.

Every gesture should be accompanied by its corresponding words, don’t forget about that. As you perform the gesture, utter the words as well to your child as clearly as possible. Remember that baby sign language should not be used to replace spoken language.

Sign Language Words for Beginners

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Establishing effective communication with your child is not only beneficial to his or her cognitive development; it also benefits you as the receiving end of what he’s trying to express. More often than not, it’s not easy to figure out. But with dedication and correct instruction, I’m sure you will do it perfectly.