February 15, 2019 — By Wendy Sachs

The stage that all babies go thru, the lack of ability to communicate with words, can be one of frustration. Not knowing what the baby wants can lead to a bumpy time for caregivers and parents. This usually happens between 8 months and 2 years old. One way to ease the feeling of frustration can be teaching children sign language.

Though limited research in this area, the findings suggest that there may be benefits beyond easing the frustration. Long term vocabulary benefits and strengthening the bond between caregiver and infant can be a result.

Some experts think that it may delay actual speech but so far, that has proven to be untrue for most children. Note that research, however, is still not complete in this area.

If you choose to use sign language for your children, there are many things to keep in mind. First, you can choose simple signs that make sense to you or you can use American Sign Language signing or even a combination of both. The first three signs you may want to consider are “more”, “milk” and “no”. It’s surprising how much those three signs let you feel much more communicative with the baby. Signing can start anytime baby, though don’t expect any real signs until well after 6 months and probably closer to a year in age.

Playing games, finger plays and using gestures will make learning language fun and stress free. Including lots of eye contact and context for what you are signing is helpful.  And, never stop talking to child even as you sign. The objective is for this to be an addition to learning to speak and not in place of chit chat.

Infants may begin to develop their own gestures for common words. That is totally fine and as long as everyone agrees on meaning, go with their lead. In fact, while research is still inconclusive about sign in general, there is good evidence that gestures can help babies develop cognitively.

At the other end, if you are concerned about your child’s language development, it is best to consult with your pediatrician who can offer insight as well as referrals for help. This website offers a great guide as to when to seek help. http://www.hanen.org/Helpful-Info/When-You-Are-Concerned/Warning-Signs.aspx

One thing has been proven true, the better parents and caregivers are at noticing subtle nonverbal cues from babies, the better for everyone. Children who have strong connections to their adults are more confident and motivated to learn to communicate. This bond sets the stage for discipline, cognitive development and self-esteem. Using sign language or gestures is another tool in our tool box that can be a boost, overall, for your child.