Good communication in my opinion is one of the most difficult challenges we face today. From the minute your baby is born we are trying to figure out what they need and want. It can be incredibly frustrating for parents and for babies who have no words yet this can often lead to meltdowns and tantrums.
Baby sign language can be very helpful in these situations. I first met the creator of Superhands, Miriam Devitt on one of my ‘0 To Toddler shows’ a few years back. James and myself had lots of fun with her book, which is the most beautifully illustrated book that introduces parents, and their little ones to the first forty signs they will need to communicate with each other.
Miriam first read about the benefits of signing with your baby when she was pregnant. She then went on to study Irish Sign Language (ISL) and started signing with her daughter Robin. Robin’s first sign, milk, came when she was just seven months old and when other parents started asking what they were doing and why she was signing with her baby even though she wasn’t deaf she knew she had to share this with more parents.
Basically, baby sign language is a series of simple gestures, or signs, that parents and their little ones use together to quickly and easily convey meaning. This helps to reduce the frustration associated with them not being understood. Most babies don’t begin to speak until well into their second or even third year and this can lead to frustration and tantrums.
According to Miriam, a baby who expects to be understood – and can be understood using sign language – is calmer in any situation. Just imagine if your baby could tell you he wanted his teddy, or more milk, or that he saw a plane! It is a lot of fun for both babies and their parents.
Most babies will have the gross motor skills from around six or seven months to make signs. Using ISL, Irish Sign Language, parents and their babies learn the signs for people, objects and emotions they will use every day. Parents are encouraged to start with just one or two signs and to use them consistently and in context. For example, every time you go for a drive you say the word ‘car’ as you sign it. “Does baby want to go out in the car?” “You like the car, don’t you?”, “What a lovely red car!”. You are repeating the word and the sign, and baby quickly understands what the sign means. Then, after a while, she will be able to sign back.
There are many advantages to using sign language with your baby. Here are just a few: Firstly, it reduces the incidents of tantrums arising from frustration. Signing also encourages your baby to talk – you speak as you sign – and research shows that babies who sign tend to talk earlier than their non-signing counterparts.
It also creates a strong parent/child bond. When you spend time signing with your baby, you spend quality time speaking with them, making eye contact and, often, singing and saying rhymes. These fun activities for baby are crucial to their early development and will help their vocabulary, self-expression and confidence by providing them with a responsive and nurturing environment.
Research has shown that babies who learn to sign have a greater vocabulary at school-going age and a higher IQ at the age of eight.
Signing is great for emotional development too. When a baby can sign he is hot, cold, tired, calm, excited, hungry, sick, sad, happy etc. he is developing an awareness of his emotions, and a vocabulary with which to express them.
Teaching your baby to sign is fantastic for fine motor coordination – thus giving your little computer programmer/engineer/footballer/dancer/artist a head start in developing these crucial skills. In order to do all those clever things when your baby is older, she needs first to develop her hand to eye coordination and her spatial reasoning. Signing is a simple way to have your baby practice these skills every day from an early age.
SuperHands have baby sign language classes running in Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Laois, Sligo and Cork and you can also purchase the book online at www.superhands.ie for €14.99