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Baby signing: How to boost your success

Baby signing is a wonderful tool, an essential bridge for babies to communicate before they are physically capable of speech.

Lauren signing hurt

You may be interested in signing with your baby, but did you know there are strategies that will greatly improve your (and your baby’s) success?

However, while baby signing is really easy to do, you can improve the time it takes her to sign back to you — as well as her sign language vocabulary — by implementing these valuable tips.

Don’t stress

Most of all, don’t worry that you have to become fluent in American Sign Language to successfully sign with your baby. Most parents just learn a handful of signs at a time, basically learning along with their baby.

Decide on signs

Willow signing baby

Brainstorm which signs will be most appealing to your baby, thus increasing her desire to use them. Most parents start with signs that revolve around basic needs, such as “milk,” “bed” and “bath.” They also will add signs for things that the baby really finds interesting, such as family pets, the ceiling fan or a favorite toy. Look up six to eight signs (check out this online sign language dictionary), learn them and then start signing.

Be consistent

To decrease the time it takes your baby to sign back to you, use the sign for the activity or beloved item every time your baby does it, sees it or shows interest in it. You don’t have to literally sit down and “teach” your baby — work it into your natural conversations to her. View the signs as an extension of the words you say.

Keep Baby’s age in mind

The earlier you start in a baby’s life, the longer it may take her to sign back to you, and the later, the easier it will be for her to pick them up. If you start at four months, for example, it may take two or three months, but if you start at eight months, it may just take a few weeks.

Don’t give up

Willow signing dog

If it doesn’t seem like your baby is interested in the signs and you worry that you’re wasting your time, don’t give up! It can take some time before he signs back, of course, but there are clues to look for to see if he’s getting it.

Pay attention and see if he reacts when you sign “milk” to him, for example. If he understands your signs but has yet to make one back, it’s just a matter of time before he clenches his fist on his own to let you know he wants to nurse. Also, you may be mistaking random hand gestures for meaningless baby movements, when in fact, he’s trying to sign with you. Over time, his signs will become more precise, and all you have to do is keep signing to him and he’ll eventually get it right.

Patience and consistency are the keys to success, but don’t forget to have fun, too. Baby signing, once it gets going, is one of the coolest things you can do with your little one, and by the time she starts talking and dropping signs, you will have enjoyed many months — or even years — of this special way of communication.

Image credit: Monica Beyer

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