In my opinion, there are no negatives regarding baby sign language as long as it is properly done. But people are asking questions about it, so I’ll offer my opinions regarding them.
Several parents have expressed concern that teaching their baby to sign might delay the baby’s speech because the child might get used to signing. Nothing I have read or seen suggests that. If speaking is what is normally done around the child, that is probably what they will learn and use. I probably signed around my kids much more than most hearing parents, and trust me, that didn’t stop any of them from talking. And talking. And talking. In fact, they all had advanced speech. As I mention in “Sign Language for Hearing Babies,” strangers regularly came up to us when each of our children got to be two-and-a-half and said they spoke like a five year old.
Parents concerned that signing may delay speech may find it interesting that professionals who work with children who have speech delays sometimes teach these children sign language to facilitate speaking.
On the other hand, some children have delayed speech for a variety of other reasons. There may be an underlying medical issue, and some children develop speech later than others. Some children get so much “help” they don’t need to speak, for example the parents give the child something when the child just points, or perhaps older siblings are speaking for the baby so the baby just sits back and lets the world come to them.
I also read about a person who was concerned about the lack of research. This person did not actually say there was a problem, but sounded like they might be implying it. Maybe I’m being oversensitive. My wife did medical research before she went to medical school so I understand the importance of verifying claims. But in the small sampling of my three children, 100% were way ahead of children not taught baby sign language. Our family enjoyed other benefits, too. I also know other children who were taught sign language as babies and I have heard of no negative issues. I could mention that 150 years ago there wasn’t much research on air, but the people who had it were much better off than those who didn’t, based on anecdotal evidence. I admit that was a much larger sample size.
I also read concern that there is not a set way to teach a baby to sign. I agree with the basic premise, but I don’t think most of us teaching baby sign language are that different. (I am a bit radical because of when I say you can start, but I use traditional teaching techniques for how to teach.) On the other hand, there is more than one way to teach someone to read, too. As a teacher, I have an idea how people learn, and as a parent who successfully taught 3 children to sign, I am confident that my method works. As the husband of a pediatrician who was quite happy with the results in her children, I feel that reasonable confirmation has been given to my method. I understand that a parent wants to choose “the best”, so look at the reviews given by people who have read or attended any program you are considering.
Finally, I read an article concerned that some families make up their own signs. I don’t recommend it for several reasons, but it is a free country, and it shouldn’t hurt anything if it is properly done. One problem the article brought up is that away from their close caregivers, the baby still won’t be understood until they learn to talk. That’s true, but without those signs they wouldn’t be understood even by their close caregivers, either.
It’s the parent’s right to choose what to teach their child and how to teach it. But to any parent considering teaching baby sign language on their own, there are a lot of resources to help you benefit from other people’s experience. Even better, many are inexpensive. My e-books are only $3.99, and you gain the benefit of over ten years of my experience with my three children, plus what I have learned from other people I have talked to and taught.
Moms have been breastfeeding for 1000’s of years. Despite the fact that this is “natural” and moms as a group have lots of experience breastfeeding, there are many books on the subject, plus support groups and medical help, because there are tips, tricks, right ways, and not-so-right ways to do it. Why not save time by learning from other people’s experience, and get better results, more quickly? Teaching your baby sign language could be a great help to you and your child, and it costs next to nothing in terms or money, effort, or time. The benefits could be great!
In my years of experience with baby sign language, the results have been purely positive. Baby sign language is not my primary job, so there could be some kind of problem, but I haven’t heard of any. In conclusion, I have never heard any documented baby sign language negatives.
Before I sign out, I’ll give you a teaser for my book, and a practical tip. Here is the teaser – our family developed several nontraditional but practical uses of Sign Language. In my book I mention the need to speak or sign clearly so that your baby can understand you. The book also has an example of a time my wife and I intentionally did not sign clearly, a time we were Christmas shopping at a toy store right in front of our young children. And we got away with it because of Sign Language.
Here is the tip. There are several ways sign language can help children old enough to talk. One involves fingerspelling, which is using handshapes to make individual letters of the alphabet. When your child has vocabulary or spelling words to learn, have them fingerspell the words sometimes. They get extra practice, and fingerspelling will engage a different part of the brain than saying or writing the words, which will help some students learn better.
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/.
Until next time,