If a baby can hear, then why would a parent or caregiver decide to introduce sign language? Parents sometimes ask if introducing sign language to their infant and toddler to encourage communication can interfere with speech and language development. As a speech-language pathologist and a mother, I always tell parents to give it a try because it can give your family another way to communicate. Babies can often demonstrate signs before learn the word. No matter our age, when we have ways to communicate wants and needs, then everyone’s frustration levels go down.
Please note, if you have any concerns about your child’s ability to hear, then contact your pediatrician.
Choosing the signs
How do you know which signs to start with? Think about times during your day where you or your child get frustrated. Is it during a meal time? Is it when during play time? Consider the activities that are you are doing when the frustration occurs and use that as a starting point for which words to select.
Basic words to consider may include:
Using the signs
In the beginning, you can just show your baby the sign and say the word too. You can put your hands over your baby’s hands while saying the word so your child can begin to understand that using the sign language gets some results.
A lot of these signs can be taught around food and snacks because food can be highly motivating. If you are asking your toddler, “Do you want more?” Go ahead and demonstrate the sign for “more,” while saying the word for more. Providing the visual cue along with the spoken word, gives your child multiple ways to learn the concept.
Don’t make your toddler demonstrate the sign to receive “more” or “please” or whatever sign you are teaching in order to receive the item. This can lead to frustration for everyone. But if your toddler does demonstrate the sign, say the word or provides some approximation of the word – for example “buh” for “bottle” – then definitely show some excitement and provide the bottle (or whatever your child says) to reinforce the word or demonstration.
No need to go all Tiger Mom by overloading your baby with tons of signs. Just pick one word a week in the beginning and build it into your daily conversations with your child. The video dictionary at Signing Times includes numerous words that you may find useful.
P.S. The sign at the beginning of the blog says “I love you.”
If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing, contact your pediatrician. If you have concerns about your child’s speech-language development, contact SpeechWorks.
Jann Fujimoto, MS CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist and owner of SpeechWorks LLC. SpeechWorks helps children become confident and competent communicators in their homes, daycares and afterschool programs and in convenient Oconomowoc and Waukesha offices.