When our daughter Aliana was born one of my very intelligent aunts sent us a book called “baby signs“. This book shows about ten basic signs for babies to learn. I had never thought about how children communicate before becoming a parent, but it seemed like a neat idea, so I decided to try it out.
From about three months of age I made the sign for “diaper” when I changed her, I showed her the sign for “more” when I was feeding her, and basically repeated about four signs over and over. As time went on I read articles about sign language helping prevent toddler tantrums and creating stronger communication bonds between children and parents. This inspired me to keep trying despite her lack of hand-signal response.
At around 10 months Aliana started using the sign for “more” while eating (and to ask for milk when she wanted to nurse.. She still does not use the sign for “milk” now at age twelve months). Suddenly at eleven months of age, Aliana walked up to me and without prompting signed “diaper” when she was finished with one of her epic poopoos. This was the beginning of truly interactive communication with our daughter.
Now when Aliana is upset about something I ask her to communicate with her hands. Sometimes she’s hungry, sometimes she wants her bottle that she threw down from the highchair and other times she wants her diaper changed. In most circumstances, she stops vocally fussing and uses her hands to show me the problem, which I immediately attend to.
Today at the dinner table she was demanding bites of my meal very loudly. I asked her if she could ask me in a more polite manner and showed her the sign for “please”, a sign she had never used before. Suddenly she began rubbing her chest after pointing at my bowl (this is the sign for “please”). John and I were elated and praised her while giving her bites of my meal. She then used the sign about ten more times as the meal progressed.
Her use of the new sign tonight made me realize I only knew one more sign to teach her (“thank you”), which inspired me to get on youtube and learn a few more! Tonight I learned the sign for “you’re welcome”, “tired”, and “sleep”. I chose to learn these three immediately based on Aliana’s needs. She learned how to say “please”, so naturally while I’m teaching her “thank you”, I should respond with “you’re welcome”! Additionally, when she becomes tired she will sign “more”, “diaper”, “bye-bye” or “all done” in any random order as she fusses vocally and tries to express her self without the knowledge of the “tired” sign. Now I know how to teach her to communicate her exhaustion to me in a more constructive way, which will greatly reduce our evening fusses.
I think it is important that pre-speaking babies are able to communicate their needs and desires to us, especially if we are raising them as sovereign individuals. If you’re interested in learning baby sign language I encourage you to buy a few books on amazon and watch LOTS of youtube videos! My favorites are the baby sign sing along groups that sign and sign at the same time to help both momma and baby remember the signs. I also like the channels that simply show the sign and say the word and nothing else. I’ve posted examples of each below:
This is a song called “Please Change Me”:
This is a woman signing “Please”: