Signing with your baby can offer you a view into your baby’s thoughts and needs, help reduce tantrums, and empower your baby to express himself and feel understood long before speech develops.
You can start signing as soon as your baby is born, although she won’t be ready to sign back to you just yet. The advantage of this approach is that it can help you develop the habit of using signs in your daily routines. Before your baby signs to you, she will let you know that she understands a sign by responding with a smile, pointing or kicking her feet. While most babies begin to sign between 9 and 13 months of age, we have received increasing reports of babies making their first signs as early as 5 and 6 months of age! While this is not typical, it proves that it is never too early to start. If your baby is 6-12 months old, start signing right away!
The most common signs to start with are MILK, MORE and EAT. Watch Signing Time: My First Signs to see Rachel demonstrate the signs. Then, use these signs every time you speak those words to your baby.
When you nurse or give your baby a bottle, sign and say “Do you want some MILK?” Then talk about the milk and make the sign as your baby eats: “We’re having MILK. MILK is so good!” Repetition is the key to success in signing with babies. The more your baby sees a sign, the faster he will learn it.
Signing doesn’t mean being silent. When you want to communicate, look at your child and make eye contact. Make the sign directly in your baby’s line of sight so your baby can see your eyes, the sign, and your mouth. Then speak to your baby, emphasizing the word you are signing. For example, you might say and sign, “Do you want some MORE bananas?”
If your baby is between 6-9 months, it may take 2 months or more for your baby to make the first sign. If your baby is older, you could see results sooner. Just remember that babies recognize the signs long before they can make them. Your baby may show her understanding when you sign MILK by pointing at her bottle or reaching out for it. Look for these signs, and keep signing!
Signing Time videos feature engaging music and animation and show many examples of each sign for quick learning. Although the videos are geared for children, you can learn signs right along with your child. Make the signs as you watch the video together so your baby can see you signing, too.
Encourage any attempts your baby makes to communicate with praise and positive reinforcement. If you think it is a sign, say: “Oh, you’re signing MILK. Do you want some MILK?” Continue to make the signs correctly and your baby will learn to make the signs correctly.
Most first signs don’t look exactly right because babies adapt signs to their physical abilities. As fine motor skills develop, signs will also develop. (This is very similar to how speech develops. Daa-daa becomes Daddy and Bah-bah becomes bottle.)
As your baby learns signs and begins to sign, consider adding other signs like SHOES and BATH. Choose signs that will be easy for you to use in your baby’s daily routine. Build your signing vocabulary by continu- ing to use the signs you already know as you add new ones.
Remember, the goal is communication, not perfect signing. Make it fun! Enjoy the deep sense of connection you feel when you begin to have two-way conversations with your baby.