There are tons of books on baby signing available, as well as lots of information on the internet. I read or scanned probably at least 20 books (which does include some board books) when Vivi was a baby, when we were pretty decided we wanted to plunge. Some of them were particularly helpful, but it’s certainly not necessary to read very much, because signing with your baby is so simple. It isn’t a complicated science or anything that requires a thorough education. I also really enjoyed the scientific aspect- reading about research and the benefits of signing. For the most part, I’m not going to get into those right now, other than touching on some of the aspects that were our main reason for choosing to sign.
I can’t speak from someone who’s thoroughly through it- someone who has 3 children, all great, early talkers. Vivi being only a year, we’re still in the early part of the process. But we have seen some huge benefits in our family already, as well as ways it has specifically and tangibly helped Vivi. So mostly, I’m just going to share how we’ve been blessed.
In a nutshell, these are some of the biggest points we decided to follow in baby signing, which are considered musts in most baby signing books. Pick just a few (3 or so) signs to start with, and consistently sign those. Sign them when you’re getting ready for the activity (or whatever it is), when you’re doing it multiple times, etc. Really connect the sign with the object/activity. For example: for teaching “eat”, we might show Vivi her high chair with food ready on it, and ask her if she wants to eat (sign, too), then we put her in and say, “Yeah, we’re eating!”…and we would comment about eating a handful of times throughout the meal. Make sure you say the word along with signing. You want them to be able to connect signs with speaking, since with a “normal” (hearing) baby, signing will eventually switch over to talking- or at least include talking, depending on your final goals. Some families like to continue signing and use baby signing as a base for expanding and learning more. We’re hoping to go this route, and encourage our older children to still sign- so long as I can keep up! Never, ever withhold something because a baby doesn’t sign it back to you. It might take a while before baby starts signing, and if you start very young, it could take months. Even after they start signing, they may or may not always sign it back to you. Signing is not something that gets disciplined- it’s a tool to communicate. Get excited with them when they sign- babies love being clapped for! If baby isn’t repeating the sign “correctly”, continue to model it accurately for them, but don’t correct their signs. Eventually, just through seeing you, they’ll perfect theirs. Several of Vivi’s signs have already moved through multiple levels of accuracy as she tries to copy me. And lastly, have fun!
As parents that believe treating children like people is of utmost importance, communicating with our children is very important to us. We believe that what children have to say is just as important and attention-worthy as anyone else. But it can be hard with a 10 month old, or even an 18 month old. Some children even don’t start talking well and clearly till they’re 2 or older. And this can lead to a lot of frustration- especially on the part of the child, but also for the parent. So baby signing appealed to us instantly. It seemed like a great idea to have a tool we could use to communicate with our babies at so young an age. It totally fits with me to find a way that Vivi can communicate her needs, wants, thoughts, desires, excitement, etc., with me. We love sharing life, and communication is a huge part of that. It’s so much fun having mutual communication as a part of our sharing life, now! Each stage has so many special aspects, and it’s definitely exciting to be able to communicate so much with Vivi.
We signed sporadically throughout Vivi’s babyhood, but didn’t get serious about it till she started tantruming a lot, all of a sudden. Thinking through the various possibilities and causes of the tantrums (because she never has before, and she was well-rested when she started down that path), we considered frustration with not being able to communicate. That was our kick into consistent signing. We chose to start with eat, play and light. We chose eat and play because they’re large parts of her day, and also needs/desires we thought her likely to communicate. We chose light as a fun one, because Vivi has always been really fascinated by lights. Sure enough, she loves telling us about every light she sees now! Since then, we’ve added all done, drink, outside and potty (because, yes, signing has even led to some beginning potty training :-)). It doesn’t matter what signs you start with; just pick ones that are relevant to you and your baby. Once Vivi masters a sign (I don’t know what “technically” qualifies, but we’re going with, once she signs it without any prompting, to communicate something), we start a new one. The rate at which she picks up signs is getting faster, although some take longer than others- and there are some signs she’s been signing back at me for at least a couple weeks, but which she still hasn’t started signing of her own accord yet. Most babies eventually get to a rate of one new sign a day, and though we haven’t yet, I suspect we will. Vivi loves having the ability to communicate with us, and gets really excited when she can use a sign to communicate, and we understand.
To get back to the tantrums- they’re gone. Just like that. She still has an occasional one over something- like when she’s exhausted and I’m trying to get her to sleep and she’d rather not be laying there. But for the most part, it seems all she needed was peaceful methods of communication. I’m sure as she gets older, and into more trouble, we’ll have some tantrum issues along the way, when she can’t have things she wants. But for now, it enables us to communicate which eliminates a large source of tantrums.
The first time she signed of her own accord, she was in the middle of a tantrum. It was a few days, or maybe even a week or two, after we started signing consistently. Ben was holding her, and she was perfectly happy, while I got dinner ready. Neither of us caught the connection till after the fact, but she started throwing a fit when I started cutting up food on her tray. Ben asked her what she wanted and told her that she didn’t have to scream. She seemed to think for a moment, then signed eat. Ben responded to her, acknowledging the need, and she was perfectly happy. Outside of tantrums motivated by severe tiredness, I think that was about the last one she had.
It makes me so happy to have a way to communicate with Vivi, so that she doesn’t get frustrated. It’s so fun to see how excited she was when she first realized she could use signing to tell us what she needs. It’s also helped eliminate some impatience issues we were having….like when I’d put her in her high chair while I was still cutting up her food, thus not having it all ready. I’m not sure why she stopped being so impatient, but I wonder if it’s because she’s fully confident now that I do know what she needs and understand her, and therefore will meet those needs. It’s really special to be able to communicate with Vivi even though she doesn’t have the coordination to speak in clear words yet…and it makes life happier and easier for all of us.
All that makes me wonder how many babies get spanked or otherwise punished for throwing fits that could easily be stopped just through a parent taking the time to teach them to communicate in a way that works for the baby. And it’s kind of scary to wonder how close we were to being one of those discipline-happy parents. I’m just grateful God spared us from that direction, and has given us the tools to teach Vivi how to communicate peacefully.
All that to say….we’re enjoying both our signing journey, and the fruit of it! If you try it with your little ones, I hope you’re as blessed as we’ve been!