The Benefits of Teaching Your Baby Sign Language

This week was pretty chaotic. Christmas had us fully booked for from Sunday to Wednesday. Thursday I got to see The Shape of Water with my bestie and her family. Needless to say, I am frantically typing this post on Friday to make sure I have it done for Saturday. Actually, The Shape of Water inspired this post. The main character uses sign language, and I actually understood some of it because I’ve taught Cog some. So, other than the rare occasion of me getting to flex my veeeeery basic sign language skills, signing has been wonderful for my relationship with Cog.

Sign Language, for us, has been pretty rad because we can know what’s bugging her for the most part. Understanding results in fewer tantrums. Toddlers have a lot of tantrums, and a lot of them are caused by trying to communicate something but not being understood. Sign language helps break that barrier a little bit, not flawlessly of course and there is a learning curve, but it still helps.

sign language, asl, gestures, language, baby, toddler, parenting, communication

How to Learn Sign Language

Memrise (language learning app)

I tried out Memrise for a while, it is one of the few language learning apps that actually offer sign language. It was handy in learning a lot of words, many of the words in the beginner tier were not necessarily helpful words for teaching a baby; that being said, it is meant for learning sign language in general, not sign language specifically for babies. One of the pros of this app is that it uses gifs rather than still images. Users can submit suggestions that help them remember the words/signs.

Youtube Videos

Often I found myself wanting to know the sign for something, but many image-based sign language dictionaries were a bit hard to understand. Fortunately, there are plenty of YouTuber’s that will have quick videos that show you some signs. I know with youtube they say “never read the comments”, but in this case, it can be helpful. Some of the YouTuber’s are people who are just learning sign language, and want to share what they’ve learned, and some of the commenters are people who are more experienced and correct or give suggestions that make things more useful. (ie. The sign for help is a thumbs up with one hand on top of a flat palm moved in an upwards direction. A commenter might add that moving the thumb in the direction of who needs the help can clarify things.)

Google

Google is always your friend. If you want to know basically any sign you’ll find something for it on Google. Switching to images help, and sometimes there are gifs. It can lead you to various sign language dictionaries, which I’m not going to list because I feel like some work better depending on who you are.

BabySignLanguage.com

This website offers paid services (Which I’ve never used, I’m just going to make that clear) BUT, it also offers free stuff on their website.  They also have a handful of printable flashcards that you’d have a hard time not seeing on every square inch of the internet when searching up sign language.

Cons of Sign Language With a Child

More!

The first sign my daughter took to was “More”. It’s apparently a pretty common first sign with children. The pro of this being the first one is that… well… you know they want SOMETHING. The downside is that they start using more for any time they want something, even if it’s not necessarily anything they were having in the first place. More could mean more food, more milk, more boob, more play, more funny faces. Just… MORE. Or to a baby? I want that thing that I want. For us, it eventually evolved past that once she learned other signs to specify what it was that she wanted.

Word Avoidance

Sometimes my husband and I found ourselves wondering if Cog was avoiding learning to say the words because she knew another way to communicate what she wanted to get across. For example, she often signs please instead of saying it, even though she knows how to. There are studies though, that suggest that babies that use gestures or sign develop language and cognitive abilities faster than their non-signing counterparts.

Always Being Asked, “What’s the sign for ______”

This is might just be a quirk in my household. So many times Gear is talking to Cog and trying to get something across and he whirls around to me and asks “What’s the sign for ________?”. Most of the time my response is something like “Why on EARTH would I know the sign for that?”, but I’ll admit, a lot of the time it gets me curious and I learn more because of it.

Pros of Sign Language with a Child

Understanding

If you teach your child the signs for some emotions or moods, it can help them express their feelings to you. So if they seem upset you can ask if they are grumpy, tired or frustrated. If they are silly, you can ask if they are having fun, or are happy. This help’s them become more in tune with their emotions as they now have a name to put to the feeling.

Communication

My daughter has recently been signing change when she wants a different song on, or us to change what she’s watching on Netflix or Youtube. It’s been awesome! instead of throwing a tantrum (ok, she still does sometimes) when it’s something she doesn’t like, she mostly just asks us to change it. She’s able to let us know when she wants food, milk or water. She can tell me when she wants music. It clarifies a lot of things that a small child might have a hard time communicating.

All in all sign language has been fantastic for my family. It helps my daughter be able to communicate her feelings and needs. She gets so excited when we know what she’s saying. For a little kid, all they want is their parents to understand them. And while all parents have a good idea of their child’s needs even without sign language, using it definitely helps clear things up.

What are your thoughts and experiences on using sign language with children? Let us know in the comments!

  • Tierney Cashman

    I LOVE this blog! I’m going to send it to our ASL teacher to read in her classroom! Also, as a new Mom, this really pushes me to learn and use sign language more often. Thanks so much!

    • Mama Michine

      thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed this post so much! I totally encourage learning asl. fun fact, signing used to be really common (especially in Martha’s Vineyard) until Alexander Graham Bell pooh-pooed it.

  • Arin Jura

    we love using sign language with our kids! It ended up being super helpful with my oldest who had a language delay, and we have been using it during meal time with my 6 month old!

  • Maranda

    I have never even though about sign language for my children. I loved your post and I think that as a family this would be a wonderful thing we can all learn together.

  • Brittany Colasuonno

    Very interesting! I have often heard of children learning sign language. Seems like a great thing to teach to young children!