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Signing with Baby: The Benefits for Babies, Toddlers and Parents

Have you ever watched the movie Meet the Fockers? If you have, you may recall the grandfather teaching his grandson some sign language to allow him to communicate his needs of milk, poop and mummy. For many this is the only reference to baby signing they have ever encountered, but this communication tool has actually been around for decades and provides many benefits!

Baby sign language involves showing babies simple gestures which they can use to communicate their needs. Once you start using signing to communicate, the benefits quickly become obvious as you witness the transformation of a squalling, frustrated infant to a confidently communicating baby. As you see your baby starting to respond to simple gestures, your interactions with your baby become more engaging and enjoyable for both of you. Your connection will flourish with lots of eye contact, fun activities and an intimate understanding of your baby's needs and interests.

These are just some of the benefits of signing with your baby:

  • Reduce distress and a baby’s need to cry in order to get what he or she may need.

  • Minimize stress levels and the release of the stress hormone, cortisol, in both baby and parent.

  • Provide your child with an easy way to communicate with you - even before they can talk!

  • Strengthen the bond between parent and baby, helping to develop secure attachment.

  • Encourage better and more complex language development – generally at an earlier age.

  • When speech begins, signing can help you to distinguish what your baby actually means, leading to less frustration and anger.

  • Encourage in the development of language and literacy skills which is at the heart of young children’s learning; children need to communicate effectively to learn and develop other skills.

What about toddlers?

Little ones who are unable to communicate their needs and feelings often resort to lashing out, biting or meltdowns. We know that a toddler’s comprehension and understanding is about 6 months ahead of their ability to express themselves – it’s no wonder that this frustration manifests itself in hitting, tantrums and other distressed and distressing behavior. Children who have been shown how to sign, and are able to make their needs known, will be better able to go through the early toddler years with fewer tantrums and less distress.

Research shows that toddlers of 12-15 months old can be expected to have around 10 verbal words – most of which will be unclear and hard to understand because their developmental speech ability is so limited. This can be so frustrating – not only for the child who is trying to get their thoughts across but also to the adult who is responsible for their care. By comparison, a child of a similar age may master dozens of signs (some research shows as many as 75!) The implication, of course, is that babies and toddlers who can sign have an advantage over those babies who cannot sign – they are able to express their needs and have them met quickly, without resorting to tears or tantrums.

Older toddlers have more command over simple words, but their vocabulary is still very limited and larger words or more complex ideas that they wish to express can simply overwhelm them. They can’t think of the correct word or they have so much that they want to say that the words will not form. They stutter and stumble trying to communicate, becoming more and more frustrated with themselves. With baby signing, they can continue to use gestures until they are more confident with the necessary vocabulary. Even as they master that vocabulary, toddlers are frequently unable to enunciate words clearly – by using the signs they have learned alongside their very first words, not only can a parent or carer understand what it is that the child is trying to say, but can also gently correct speech from the start. .

For those who worry that your toddler’s speech development will be slowed by the use of sign language, be reassured that signing is always replaced by speech once a child feels confident with the spoken word. From time to time a child may use the sign as well as the word, to reinforce an important point for emphasis or to make it very clear that they require a need to be met.:

If you want to find out more about signing with your baby or toddler, I run lovely classes which cover the basics of baby sign language. While you can learn the signs from a book or website, the benefit of joining a class is that we go through the correct ways to sign, and review ways to support your little one and what do when they start to sign. Having signed with both my children, I’ve already done all the hard work for you-teaching you the signs which will be most helpful, and sharing fun songs and rhymes and helpful hints in a safe and supportive environment.

Sign of the week: "Milk"

Babies can easily learn to sign for milk, helping reduce frustration and decrease your confusion about whether they are hungry for food, thirsty for milk, or want to nurse or have a bottle.

I’d love to hear from you, so if you are interested in signing with your little one then please get in touch with me today!. If you have already been signing with your child, I'd love to hear how the experience has been for you!

Katie x

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