Before I had kids there was a moment when I saw my little baby nephew, still too young to speak, become so overwhelmed with frustration that it was heartbreaking. I could see that he was so frustrated because he knew what he needed but couldn’t communicate it to anyone to actually be able to get what he needed. All the grown ups around him were guessing at what he was asking for as he was crying and with each passing incorrect item they presented, he became more and more frustrated.
Maybe it was the look of helpless frustration on his little face, or the worry that started to set in about what I would do when that day came as a flustered momma trying to help my crying baby but not knowing what he or she wanted, but that incident reminded me that at some point I’d heard something about baby sign language and so I decided to look into it. Yes, I was looking into baby sign language for kids of mine that didn’t even exist yet. Which may sound outlandish until I tell you that previously I’d also called our local childcare facility to get pricing so we could budget accordingly (also before we had kids) and I had a heck of a time trying to explain to the woman on the other end of the phone that no, I wasn’t looking to enroll a baby, I just needed pricing so we could put that information into our budget for the future, lol.
And now two kids later, holy moly am I soooo thankful for baby sign language! It’s made such a huge difference for my husband and I with both of our girls. The first time my husband and I ventured into the world of baby sign language was with our first daughter after she was born (she’s 6 now). And we’ve been teaching our second daughter sign language as well since we brought her home after she was born, and she’s a year old now.
It’s been such a helpful life hack that I tell any parent that will listen about what a positive impact it’s had on our stress levels which, lets be real, can be at an all time high when it comes to learning and growing with a new baby. It’s been so helpful in fact that I wanted to offer 5 tips for you if it’s something you’re considering or even if it’s something you’ve never heard of before (it’s so worth it, trust me!).
Here’s a side note for you as well before I begin; I’m not an expert in the areas of American Sign Language or teaching baby sign language. I’m just a regular mom that used what I’d learned and I’m passing on the tips and tools that helped. There are so many amazing resources to learn baby sign language like these resources from Amazon* and this incredible baby sign language video from Language Liftoff on YouTube which includes some basics about why it’s helpful to teach sign language, how to teach your baby, and 15 basic signs (it also includes the 5 signs I talk about below, whoop whoop!)
- We started out by picking 5 signs we wanted to begin with to keep it manageable and they were signs for things we knew the girls would need to communicate most often: milk, diaper, sleep, food, and more. Since we started practicing signing as soon as we brought each of our girls home from the hospital, we began with 3 of those signs (milk, diaper, and sleep) and then as they got old enough to eat table food, we added the signs for ‘food’ and ‘more’.
- We started signing with our girls as soon as we came home from the hospital. There are varying ideas on when to start signing. Some recommend waiting until your baby is between 4 to 6 months old so they have more use of their hands and then you don’t have to wait as long for them to be able to sign back, which I’ve read can be between 8 to 9 months old. We decided to start signing right away because my thought process was that it’s likely that family’s with someone who is deaf probably start to sign with their baby right away as well since it’s the main form of communication in their home. Starting at the newborn stage with signing meant we’d be waiting longer for the girls to be able to sign back but for us it felt like a worthy investment in the time and effort (both of which are very little which makes it that much more helpful).
- As I mentioned above, this video from Language Liftoff is so wonderful in giving the basics of why baby sign language can be helpful, how to teach it and also offers the visual of 15 basic signs. The 5 signs we picked to start with (milk, diaper, sleep, food, and more) are all included in this video, yay! And you can skip forward to the 3:45 mark in the video if you’d like to just see the signs, but I highly recommend watching the whole thing to get some great insight especially since the whole video is just over 6 minutes long
- A recommendation I read in one of the baby sign language books I used when my first daughter was born, was that after you say the word and show them the sign, you also take your baby’s hand and do the sign for them with their own hand when they’re very little so they can also learn that way as well. So for example, the sign for milk is opening and closing your fist similar to milking a cow (let’s pause to clarify one quick thing, I’ve never actually milked a cow before so I’m just approximating what it looks like based on how I’ve seen it done on tv and in movies, lol). So when it was time for milk I would A) say the word ‘milk’ while also B) doing the sign for ‘milk’ with my own hand and then C) I would take her hand in mine and squeeze it a few times to mimic what it would feel like when she’s able to do the sign with her own hand (there’s a video I pulled together to show you what this looks like and it’s over in our free, private Facebook community for mommas so pop over there and search ‘baby sign language’ to find it)
- Together as a family we learned and practiced the 5 signs we wanted to use and used them as often as possible to help with repetition and consistency. Please know that it didn’t always happen in the beginning stages because we’re human and sometimes we’d just forget because we’re learning a new habit which takes takes time. Not to mention doing this while also trying to juggle a newborn and a sleep deprived family, lol. So give yourself lots of grace and patience. If you need, pop up some post it’s in high traffic areas with the words that you’re planning to sign to help remind you to use the signs
And there you have it! The basics of our baby sign language journey and oh my gosh is it a priceless tool in my motherhood toolbox. Now we can ask our one year old with signs if she wants milk or food when she seems fussy around mealtimes and she can sign back what she wants. She can tell us when she wants more food while she’s eating. And when she’s crying for what feels like no reason, I can run through the signs for what she might need until she signs back with what she needs and so I know where to start to help her. Talk about an amazing opportunity to be able to relieve some of the stress brought on by a fussy, crying baby that can’t yet verbalize what they need or want. Give it a try momma, you won’t regret it!
Be sure to click here for even more helpful tips and tools, incredible encouragement and a little mom humor thrown in for good measure, lol.
*as always, I like to keep it real around here so the Amazon link provided is an affiliate link. As an Amazon Associate I earn a small commission from qualifying purchases which in turn helps to keep The Sister Joist up and running. You can of course always shop directly from Amazon if you’d like to bypass the affiliate link