Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Hey Baby What's Your Sign?

Babies are not only cute, cuddly, precious, and good-smelling (well, at least after diaper changes), but their pretty darn SMART too. Seriously, and I'm not just talking as a proud dad. I've been amazed how babies are much more observant and communicative than we give them credit for. This communication goes beyond the "he has one cry when he's hungry, a different cry when he's tired, etc." Let me elaborate.

My wife and I have used Baby Sign Language with both of our boys, and the results have been most impressive. SHAMELESS PLUG FOR WHICH I WILL RECEIVE NO ROYALTIES: IF YOU WANT TO REDUCE FRUSTRATION LEVELS IN YOUR HOUSE, TEACH YOUR BABY TO SIGN! We bought one of the instructional DVDs to get started, and from there we were off to the races (though this is a marathon and not a sprint). Baby sign language is essentially a modified version of American sign language. The premise is simple: babies can learn to sign (and make multiple signs) MUCH faster/earlier than they acquire spoken language. Through signing, your baby can communicate his/her needs more easily = less frustration for baby = happier Busy Dad-E and/or Busy Mom-E.

"So when do I start?" The generic answer is "when your baby is ready." We started with our boys at about 6 months, but anywhere between 6-12 months is typical, usually when the child can make some good and (briefly) sustained eye contact. You first introduce to your baby (up to) 3 signs: milk, eat, and more. At first, teaching a baby to sign is like a bad relationship: it's very one-sided. You will make the milk sign HUNDREDS of times, and your baby will either ignore you or think "what the heck is Dad-E doing?" You'll get nothing in return, and you'll begin to wonder if Busy-Dad-E was playing a big joke on you. But remember, babies are pretty darn smart. THE SECRET OF SUCCESS IS CONSTANCY OF PURPOSE. BE PERSISTENT!

Then, one day (for us it was at about age 12 months), almost out of the blue, you'll make the milk sign (not even realizing your still doing it), and your munchkin will make the sign back. PLEASE ALLOW ME TO CLOSE YOUR JAW. The two of you will share in that moment, and you'll be blown away, at least I was. THERE REALLY IS A HAMPSTER RUNNING THE WHEEL INSIDE THE HEAD OF THAT SWEET LITTLE CRY/POOP MACHINE, AND HE/SHE CAN TALK TO ME. WOW!

From there, the learning curve is exponential. Babies start picking up signs like they've always known them. Teach her the sign for puppy once, and never again will she look at the dog without making the sign, to let you know "HEY DAD-E, THAT'S A PUPPY!" Within two months of his first sign (milk), my boys added signs like eat, puppy, more, apple, shoes, diaper change, tree, etc.

And it's not just about object recognition. The two-way street is now OPEN. Your baby will use their signs to really communicate with you. Imagine the following scenario: Your baby is sitting in his high chair eating and he starts to cry. Without Baby Signs, you give him milk (he throws it on the floor, it spills, the dog tries to lick it up, and you slip getting up to shoo away the dog), you give him food (and now you're cleaning the walls), you give him a toy (which also ends up on the floor), etc. With Baby Signs, he makes the "diaper change" sign to tell you "HEY I DON'T WANT TO EAT BECAUSE I'M SITTING HERE IN MY OWN POOP!" and two minutes later he's smiling and eating again, and everyone's happy.

"But won't that delay my child's speech." All of the research we found indicates that this is false. Signing with your baby. In fact, many children will use signs and speech simultaneously up to about age 3.

Your baby is immensely curious and observant about the world around them. Baby Signs give them an amazing tool to communicate and share that with you. It's helped me see the world through my boys' eyes, gain insight into their personality and likes, and bond with my children.

In summary:
1. Babies are pretty darn smart.
2. Your child, even little babies, are always watching (and imitating) you and their environment.
3. Give Baby Signs a shot. I hope you'll be amazed.

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  1. I too have enjoyed having an insight into what the little ones are thinking through signing...great job Dad-E.

  2. I'm so excited to teach our new baby how to sign! What a fun and less stressful way to communicate! Thank you for your insightful and fun post!