Ever since Adele was about 4 or 5 months old, she has seemed to want to communicate with us. And what baby doesn’t want to communicate? It’s just that the most common mode of communication for the first year(s) is a nice combination of screaming/grunting/babbling. Unless, of course, you teach your baby to sign. I know this is a fairly common practice, but since I find it to be one of my must-have parenting techniques these days, I thought I’d share our experience with Baby Sign Language.
When we had our twins, I knew I wanted to sign with them. I couldn’t wait until they would be ready to sign back to me, and I signed basic signs to them whenever I had a chance, starting right after they came home from the NICU. I signed eat, more, milk, sleep, cold, quiet, mama, dada, etc. and waited anxiously for the day that they would sign back to me instead of relying on their finely honed screaming skills.
However, being a new, impatient, and apparently really naive mama, I mostly gave up by the time they were 6 months old and not signing back to me. I know what you’re thinking — six months? And worst of all, their adjusted age was only 3 months, so it was even more ridiculous of me than it first sounds. I still stuck with a few really basic signs (mostly more and eat), but that was it. I just thought maybe my babies weren’t the brightest crayons in the box, and decided signing wasn’t for us.
With my third baby, I decided I’d try again. I gave her a bit more time, and with the twins having finally picked up their two signs, she picked up 3 or 4. But still, I thought that babies that had dozens by age 18 months must be geniuses, because my kids just didn’t have a knack for sign language.
So this brings us to baby numero quatro. From the get-go, Adele has been different. First of all, I have no qualms about admitting that my kids have turned my nice, tidy world upside down and I have little control over my days. I no longer worry over not completing a to-do list in a day, and my kids generally dress themselves, which in and of itself is a testimony to how far I’ve come in relinquishing my OCD tendencies. With Adele, I am the stereotypical mama that has slowly loosened up with each child. And it is so gosh darn freeing. When I decided to try signing with her, a little light went on and I realized that maybe I hadn’t given the other three enough time to learn the signs I wanted to teach them. Maybe, just maybe, it was me that had failed in the baby sign department, not them. (As you can see, I’m quite the genius well. Ahem.) So we started all over, with a different attitude and different aspirations this time around.
And you know what? It worked. Adele knows more signs at age one than I thought possible. In fact, she knew more by 8 months than I ever hoped for. Let me share with you a few tips, just in case you are interested in trying baby sign language for the first time, or are ready to throw in the towel, like I was.
1.) My first tip is to start young. As I said earlier, I started with Adele at about 4 months old. Now that she is 1, she has been seeing me sign with certain words for about as far back as she can remember. The signs are as familiar as the words itself, if not more so.
2.) Secondly, be as consistent as possible. Every time I knew she wanted to nurse, I signed milk. By the time she was about 6 months old, she was signing milk while whimpering, so that I knew (before she was fully screaming) that she wanted to nurse.
3.) My third tip is to recruit your family and friends. I made sure that when others were asking if she wanted more, they signed it to her. My older three kids love to ask her if she wants to eat, and they always sign thank you when she “shares” a toy with them.
4.) Lastly, but most importantly, be patient and stick to it. Don’t give up, even if you are certain your child just isn’t picking it up. All kids learn things when they’re good and ready, and not a minute sooner. Kids learn things on their time schedule, not yours, as I eventually learned.
Now that Adele is one, she regularly signs: more, eat, mama, daddy, drink, milk, sleep, thank you, please, quiet, and all done. Just these signs make life so. much. easier. I now know when she wants certain basic needs met, which I love, and I think she does too. My favorite resource for baby sign language is this site. It has great videos, and is easy to navigate. I have never read a book on baby sign language, and I don’t know any more than Adele does, so we’re learning together.
I hope that after reading our baby sign story, you’ll be encouraged to start signing with your baby or toddler, or maybe pick up where you left off. You will be so happy you did.
*All photos in this post are just random, gratuitous shots of my sweet girl. She wouldn’t sign for a photo for the life of me, so this is what you get!