Does baby sign language really help a baby? Since I am an author, lecturer, and teacher on the subject of baby sign language, it is probably no surprise that I believe in its benefits.
Recently I have been reading articles and parent’s questions about the benefits, or even possible drawbacks to, teaching a baby sign language. I will address these in my next few posts, but the quick answer is that properly teaching a baby to sign is beneficial to the baby and its family/caregivers, and there are no real negatives.
That opinion comes from a variety of experiences over 15 years with my own children, plus what I have picked up from other people. For a brief overview, I signed to each of my children from birth, starting in 1992. I am a teacher; teaching is what I do. I didn’t expect anything, I just did it. My wife also signed to them, but her knowledge of baby development as a pediatrician gave us a real breakthrough. With each child we learned more, but the absolute biggest thing is when you can start teaching a baby.
The common belief is that you can’t start teaching your baby sign language until they are around 6 months old. It turns out that adults recognize what the baby is doing around 6 months. Our last child had 3 signs by 9 weeks. Babies can sign, you just have to know what to look for because their signs are different at first because of how a baby’s nerves develop.
I read an article that said babies don’t have anything to say before they are 6 months old. If that is true, why do they cry, and why do they stop when we figure out the problem and fix it?
Many parents would say, “My child was talking by 12 months, anyway.” That’s great, but saying “ma ma, da da” at 12 months is a lot different than being able to say you’re hungry at 4 months. One is talking, one is communicating.
Early communication is the reason most people consider using baby sign language, and that is a great reason, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. I believe that early sign language is why strangers regularly came up to me and said each of my 2 year olds spoke like 5 year olds. But the benefits aren’t just limited to communication. They include decreasing frustration, providing another way to bond, and giving parents another way to gauge their babies development.
Teaching your baby sign language is an investment in your child. Like most investments, the sooner you start, the greater the potential gain. Of course, teaching child sign language at any age will benefit them, and the method is essentially the same. Families with a newborn and a toddler could teach them both!
I believe that most parents can teach basic signs, that most babies can learn to really communicate months before they can speak useful words, and that the benefits are far reaching and long lasting.
My book “Sign Language for Hearing Babies” discusses the best signs to teach a baby, how to teach them, some unexpected as well as expected benefits, mistakes some parents make, and when you can start teaching your baby. You can start early enough that I recommend you and other caregivers read the book before your baby comes.
Before I close, here is a tip. I recommend that you practice a couple of specific signs as soon as possible. There are several reasons I mention in my books. The tip is, when you practice, try not to hold your hand or face tight, which can happen when you are concentrating, which is common when people are trying something new. It will tire our hand more quickly, and may make your expression unpleasant. Practicing, especially with other people, will help you get past that.
Here are links to my parenting books:
Sign Language for Hearing Babies, amazon.com/Language-Hearing-Babies-Brian-Fisher-ebook/dp/B01EJXNZ5K/ , and
You Are Your Child’s Most Important Teacher, amazon.com/Your-Childs-Most-Important-Teacher-ebook/dp/B01C7SFENA/.