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How To Use Baby Sign Language To Communicate With Your Infant

flickr / wck

You’ve probably become pretty amazing at guessing what your baby needs. It’s pretty clear that as they’re screaming themselves blue in the face, they need their diaper changed … Or maybe they’re hungry … Of course, it could be that they’re tired … Maybe they want that toy? Nailed it!

Okay, maybe you need a bit of brushing up. While there aren’t tried-and-true ways to divine all of your kid’s ever-changing wants, there are some tricks to bridging the communication gap. One of these? Learning to speak with your baby through sign language. If you want to give sign language a try, here’s what you need to know.

Sign Of The Times

The idea behind baby sign language is that some basic signs can help your kid communicate prior to developing the ability to be all, “Yo, pops, hit me with some of that pre-pumped boob juice, buddy.” Research suggests that sign language taps into a period in your baby’s development when they are relying on gestures to communicate. The trick, however, is to make those gestures have more meaning, aside from pointing at stuff.

The gestures are known as ritualized requests. Along with pointing, they may include such movements as reaching out and clenching and unclenching a fist to indicate they want a thing you have. Like that shiny brown bottle of whatever seems to make you way more smiley and silly.

When To Start Signing

Interestingly, experts really don’t prescribe an age that you should begin signing with your kid, though 6 months does seem to be the norm. The thought is, if you sprinkle some gestures into your daily interactions, then your baby will start to pick up on them. It’s the same reason you give yourself an embolism every day trying not to drop f-bombs.

Of course, the earlier you start signing, the more basic your signs will be and the more limited the repertoire. Obviously you don’t want to start teaching them the sign for “elastic potential energy” at 4 months, unless of course they are an actual baby Einstein. Also, know that the younger you start, the longer it will likely be before you see them signing back.

So It Begins

If you want to start signing with your kid, then there are a few guidelines you’ll want to keep in mind. They’ll make you a bit less frustrated, confused and less likely to think your kid is some kind of surrealist sign language poet.

1. Start Simple

Use signs for things that are common and important in your baby’s life. Signs for important people in their life are great (think Mom and Dad as opposed to Senator), as are signs for food and simple requests. Some good signs to start with include:

  • Mom
  • Dad
  • Milk
  • Up
  • More

2. Use Signs During Situations

You don’t need to hang out and run sign language drills with your baby, because that takes the gestures out of context and context is super duper important. If your talking about Mom, then make the sign for Mom. If you’re asking them if they want milk, then make the sign for milk. If you’re asking them if they’re angry, don’t give them the middle finger. At least not in public.

3. Be Really Patient

It may take some time to get your kid to start pointing his thumb to his head when he wants mom, but just know that he will start signing back to you eventually. And when that happens it’ll be awesome. But you don’t need to push them. It’s not like they’re going to be behind if they don’t do this. Relax and have fun with it.

One Last Concern

There are some parents who worry that if their kid becomes adept at sign language, they’ll be less likely to talk. If that were the case, the Kardashians would have been encouraged to do this with all of their kids decades ago.

But don’t worry. Most research suggests that using sign language won’t slow your kid down. In fact it may ease frustrations while they’re trying to get you to understand what they need. That said, don’t expect sign language to make them some sort of advanced communicator in the long run. You still have to do some work to make that happen.