Sign Language for Babies

While your baby may not be talking yet, she probably understands a few words, and perhaps can wave bye-bye. She certainly understands signals such as smiles and frowns.

In fact, babies at this age are quite strong at this kind of communication. No wonder: they have been busy learning to use their large muscles, but still have a way to go before they can perform the more precise small movements of the mouth and tongue required to speak clearly.

Because a baby’s brain is ready for language before the baby can actually speak, some child development researchers suggest that parents teach babies a few words of sign language.

Long before babies can talk, they can learn to touch their fingertips to their mouths to say “hungry,” tap their fingers together to say “more,” or bring their thumbs to their lips to say “drink,” all words in American Sign Language (ASL). You can teach your baby ASL signs, or make up your own signs.

Parents who learn a few words in sign language say that doing so seems to erase much of the frustration of their toddlers’ lives. If a baby can sign “hot” or “stop” or “help,” she is likely to shed fewer tears over the course of a day.

You can teach a word here or there by using the sign and saying the word at the right moment. For example, when your baby holds a book, press the palms of your hands together, and then open them as you say “book.”

While teaching your baby a few useful signs may help her express her needs, the main benefit is that it’s fun. Your baby will adore being able to start conversations with you, as much as you take pleasure in understanding her.

Disclaimer: This page is not intended to provide medical advice about your child. Always seek the advice of a physician, qualified healthcare provider or child-development specialist with any questions you have about your child's health, medical condition or development. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you read here.

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