I was astonished the first time I saw a baby use sign language. I was
having lunch with my friend and her 10-month-old daughter. When her
tray was empty, she looked at her mom, pinched her fingers together
and tapped them. Unbeknownst to me, she was silently communicating
with her mom. The baby’s face lit up as her mom put more food on her
tray, and she happily continued to eat. There was no need for her to
fuss because she effectively communicated her need.
I was speechless. I vowed right then, if I ever had another child, I would
teach him or her to sign. I remembered this moment while I was pregnant
with Little Miss. My excitement for baby sign language grew with my belly.
I researched and bought books. The process seemed simple. It would
require patience and repetition.
When Little Miss started to eat, I began to sign. I discovered the com-
mon first signs to teach. Like my friend, I started with “more.” Every time
I gave her another bite, I said and signed more. I did this for weeks, over
and over and over. I also said and signed “eat” before each meal, again
and again and again.
Then one day, she responded. Her tray was empty. She looked at me
and tapped her fingertips together. She signed more! I will never forget
our shared joy and the accomplished look on her face.
Shortly thereafter, she signed “eat” when she was hungry. Once she
learned the first two signs, she quickly mastered others. I taught her
the sign for “milk” to represent when she wanted to nurse. I showed her
less than ten times. She also learned to sign “all done” when she was
finished eating, which helped her learn to stop eating when she is full.
She signed “water” when she was thirsty. She even learned to sign
“thank you” and “please.”
I could read it on her face. She was excited to communicate her needs.
She reveled in my understanding. It taught her that her feelings and
needs are important. It bonded us closer together.
She is now a chatty toddler, so I haven’t worked as hard to add new
signs. She knows about 30 signs and we do still use them. We have
a Sesame Street sign language book from the 70s (remember Linda?)
that she often asks me to read. She particularly likes the animal signs.
She bursts into giggles every time I sign “owl” or “deer.”
Babies are highly focused on language and understand many words
before they can speak. With a little effort, you can help your them avoid
those early frustration often stemming from an inability to communicate
their needs. Parents can reduce their babies’ impatience and empower
them to communicate with their hands. Is it worth the while? Well, I
really think so. What are your thoughts?