Many parents use sign language with their babies as a means of communication before their child can speak. The fine motor skills required for sign language develop before those that are required for speech, and it's an excellent way to foster early communication between parents and their babies. You can start signing with your baby early on, but it isn't required — you can start at any time, even after your toddler has mastered his first words. That's where teaching manners signs come in!
As your baby reaches the 12- to 18-month range, you can expand your signs and begin to incorporate "please" and "thank you" into your sign language vocabulary. These are American Sign Language (ASL) signs and they aren't complicated at all.
When introducing these signs, it's best to always do it in context. For example, your child asks for a drink or a cookie. Before you honor her request, ask your child to sign "please" by signing it while you say it. She may or may not do it right away, but if you keep up this routine she will eventually pick up the sign. You can also demonstrate it when making a request yourself. You can ask your toddler to hand you a toy, for example. Emphasize the word "please" as you say it and be sure to sign it at the same time.
The same concept works for "thank you." After you've handed your child her snack or treat, ask her to sign "thank you" as you sign it yourself. It's also easy to demonstrate to her when she has given you something.
For manners signs (and other signs if you wish to use them) there are a number of helpful hints that you should keep in mind:
Enjoy your signing experience and expect strangers to delight in it. It's hard to resist a sweet toddler signing "please." And many parents report that when their toddler signs "thank you" people often assume they are blowing a kiss — but are thrilled when they explain their little one is using sign language!
Sign language teacher Julia Harmon speaks about the importance of sign language to your infant or toddler.
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