As if you need any more reasons, you’ve already signed up for the course! However, the truth of the matter is that you don’t just need to convince yourself of the benefits, you also have to play advocate to others about why in the world of limited time, you’d even consider tackling a new challenge, especially if it provides no benefit. Lucky for you, the benefits to signing with your baby are both numerous and plentiful.
The research into baby sign language and communication in general has shown that a baby can sign effectively 5-6 months on average before they can speak verbally. Consider too that some babies can be 2 or even 3 years old before learning to speak, a statistic that is even more prevalent in boys. So the obvious question, is why would you wait nearly a half-a-year (or more) before actively communicating with your baby? If you were told that you could start talking with your baby right away, why wouldn’t you? Sign language isn’t a replacement for talking though, it’s a bridge that brings you and your baby together much sooner than you could otherwise.
The research into baby sign language has shown that babies who sign have advanced communication abilities over non-signing babies, such as a larger vocabulary, higher IQ’s, better concentration and improvements in literacy. Children who practice sign language use more than one learning channel and activate more of their brain. Signers use vision, hearing, and touch to learn language, so many more neurons are involved. Signing to your baby while you talk to them also forces baby to use both sides of their brain in communication. Research on the brain has shown that we access spoken language on the left side of the brain, while visual information is access from the right side of the brain. In signing babies this produces more vivid memories and therefore strengthens language and visual centers at the same time, putting more of the mind to use. When a signer is communicating, they use visual neurons, motor neurons and auditory neurons, this makes language development much stronger. Also those infants whom prefer touch as a method of learning also learn language faster since it involves a kinesthetic approach. Not all babies, like not all adults, learn best by ‘hearing’, ‘seeing’ or ‘doing’ equally, so signing helps all types of learners.
Signing with your baby is an awesome way to bond and connect with your child. It’s a way to learn about their personality, their interests, and of course, their needs. Sign language makes life easier for adults too because it permits their baby’s to tell them precisely what it is that the want, if they’ve had enough, want more, or are simply interested in learning more about something that has peaked their curiosity.
Signing moves your baby from a passive and powerless observer to an active member of your household who can join in on conversations, or even start them on their own. Baby sign language teaches babies early on that their bodies convey meaning and heightens their observation of others. When your baby starts to “talk” with their hands, you will notice things in your environment that you previously overlooked. It will help you rediscover your life from a fresh perspective. It won’t take long before you realize just how smart your baby really is. My son Holden is often the first to notice the hum of AIRPLAINES flying overhead or a DOG barking down the road. It seems like everything is worthy of note from the perspective of a baby. How would a non-signing baby ever tell you about what he hears and sees? The simple answer is that he wouldn’t. He might grunt and point, or make monosyllable sounds (in due time), however he wouldn’t be able to clearly state exactly what he’s thinking. In my brother’s words, “Your baby seems so much smarter than other babies, it’s like he gets it….other babies seem out of it.” While he could be totally right, my son might be a genius, the reality is that he’s probably not much different than any other baby his age. All babies can learn to sign. Signing doesn’t create intelligence, rather, signing is a demonstration of intelligence. The truth is that signing puts a lot of extra attention on a baby and this is probably the reason a baby is so much more advanced than other babies, but this doesn’t tell the whole story. Signing is a real life tool that can help in so many other ways.
Signing helps babies express themselves constructively rather than with more traditional baby-type expressions which are rudimentary such as crying, grunting or acting-out. Babies will naturally use nonverbal communication to express wants and needs such as crying, reaching for objects or putting their arms up to be lifted regardless of whether they are taught formal signs. Signs can put labels on emotions much earlier in life and help validate what a baby is feeling. This alone will help a baby to understand themselves and protect you, and them, from the need to resort to outbursts. Some parents will tell you that they instinctively understand what their baby wants or needs so they have no use for sign language, however, more often than not, they are either reading nonverbal channels anyway (a form of sign) or are going through a basic check list before stumbling on the correct answer. Take the guess work out of reading silent language and give your baby a voice! If you take signing out of the equation, what do you really have left? Crying and tantrums. Count me out! Signing give a baby gain control over their lives which they desperately crave helping them build confidence and comfort. This small early investment will pay you back in dividends as your baby approaches the “terrible-twos” by given them a dialogue by which to express their emotions.
Signs help reduce whining and tantrums because a baby can tell you exactly what they want, and then, in turn, you can either permit them to have it, or explain why they can’t. Asking for things using signs such as MORE does not mean that you have to give it to them, no more than if they asked for things verbally at a later age. However, what signing does help with is that it shows a baby much earlier in their lives that their wants are not the same as their needs and that a want is not something that is always provided. Hearing the word “no” or seeing the sign for NO is a (big) part of communication to a young toddler, and the sooner boundaries are set, the better. Learning to communicate properly before a child reaches the “terrible twos” which usually starts around 18 months – when your baby becomes verbal, will greatly assist parents in controlling a baby’s demands. Sign language creates predictability and expectations in advance of receiving, or not receiving something, which reduces surprises to a baby helping to create a more structured environment for them. In other words, if you tell a baby that they are about to receive their last COOKIE and then it’s ALL DONE, then your baby will know not to bother whining for another one (so long as you stick to your guns!). Sign language helps parents introduce manners to babies, as well as more acceptable ways to ask for things.
Above: Courtney walks through how using the signs FRUSTRATE and HELP can reduce tantrums.
Teaching signs for STOP and SHARE are powerful signs that will prevent rudimentary behaviours such as fighting, hitting and biting. Manners and etiquette can also be delivered covertly from across a room rather than having to yell. Simple instructions such as STOP and NO with a stern face can prevent a toddler from doing something inappropriate. You can even remind a toddler to say THANK YOU to grandma for a gift they received.
To a baby, sign language replaces violence, which all people need to learn. The sooner, the better in my opinion. Many signing children will come up to other infants and ask for things they want rather than just grabbing them. Signing can build strong sibling relationships where older children can coach younger ones and communicate with them much sooner than non-signing children. Signing children can play sign games and sign songs together. Imagine silent “I spy games” or “colour games” on a long car ride! Siblings can even work out secret code language amongst themselves that other non-signing children won’t understand.
Teaching baby sign language is a realistic challenge for adults who can, along the way, develop a second language. At the same time, parents are building a stronger bond between them and their child and can have fun doing it. Once you start, you’ll be hooked on the power and will really want to know what your baby is thinking and if it helps your child build their self esteem, increase their IQ, improve their vocabulary then so much the better. Finally, sign language can be a really great party trick especially during family dinners! While this seems superficial (and it is), it’s still a great side benefit to teaching sign. The grandparents won’t get over themselves when they see your little one signing up a storm. Certainly they’ll reminisce about “what will they think of next” but your family will be certain to enjoy peering into your little ones mind – something that sign language permits.