Learning to Communicate with my Baby and Toddler Through Sign Language

Being able to communicate with my children is something I think is very high on the list of importance. Ever since both of my children were small I’ve tried to learn and teach them (and myself) how to communicate better. One of the tools I’ve used over the past few years is sign language. And I really have to give credit to Joann of Sign4Baby for teaching me almost everything I know!

I attended Joann’s classes with my daughter when she was fairly young and continued the classes until she was just under a year old. After that we had quite a handle on her signs and were able to teach her new signs we picked up elsewhere (as well as on Sign4Baby’s Facebook page and blog).

While teaching my daughter signs I’ve learned a few things about communication from Sign4Baby:

1. Sometimes The Sign Isn’t Perfect –
My daughter and son both were very interested in signing back to me starting at 9-12 months old. But sometimes the trouble I had was that I was interpreting signs as hand gestures that didn’t mean anything. Sometimes your child sees the sign that you show them in a different way than what you think. Take the time to really watch your child and their reaction when they’re flailing their arms around. You might be surprised to find a sign or two mixed in there!

2. Don’t Stick to the Basics –

Please and thank you. More and eat. These words might be important to you but your baby might not want anything to do with them! So while you can teach these signs to your child (at the appropriate age) make sure to teach them the fun, everyday signs they might be more interested in. My daughter loved talking about her dog, my son talked about ducks. Both loved airplanes! Think outside the box and you’ll encourage more conversation.

3. Don’t Do Too Much at Once – 

Sure, you’re excited to be learning all of these fun signs and want to teach them all to your child. But using too many signs may be overwhelming for your child. Start by using and repeating three different signs each week (or one if your child is small). Use the sign whenever you do or talk about what the sign is. Then slowly build up the signs you learn and use every week!

Do you sign with your baby? How do you communicate with your children?

Early Stages of Speech Development: Pointing and Gestures

No, we didn’t get another dog. My daughter has started pointing! And I am loving it. When my son started pointing I didn’t realize it was such a big deal until one of my friends (who happens to be a speech language pathologist) commented about it and let me know that it was a good sign that he was developing right on track.

I actually noticed it when I was playing Angry Birds on my smartphone and she kept reaching over from her seat on the couch to try and touch the screen with her little pointer finger. She saw me pointing at the screen (launching the birds) and wanted to do the same! Then on our most recent trip to Disneyland this past week she started pointing at things around her. So we took advantage of her interest and started telling her about everything she pointed at. She might have been overwhelmed just a bit…

It’s important for kids under 12 months of age to be watched for signs that they’re using their “voices” to relate to their environment. A few things to look for in your infant to make sure that they are on track are listed below. Knowing what’s “normal” and what’s not in speech and language development can help you figure out if you should be concerned or if your child is right on schedule. 

Early Stages of Speech Development
Birth to 3 Months

  • Respond to speech by looking at the speaker
  • Respond differently to the voice of a parent than to other voices
  • React to changes in a speaker’s tone, pitch, volume, and intonation
  • Respond differently to their home language and another language
  • Communicate with bodily movements, by crying, babbling, and laughing
  • Attempt to imitate sounds

3 Months to 6 Months

  • Exchange sounds, facial expressions, or gestures with a parent or caregiver
  • Listen to conversations
  • Repeat some vowel and consonant sounds

6 Months to 9 Months

  • Begin repetitive babbling (deaf children also start to babble with their hands)
  • Associate gestures with simple words and two-word phrases, like “hi” and “bye-bye”
  • Use vocal and non-vocal communication to express interest and influence others 
  • Saying words like “mama” and “dada” (without really understanding what those words mean)

9 Months to 12 Months

  • Understand the names of familiar people and objects (for example bottle, binky, etc.)
  • Show their understanding with responsive body language and facial expressions
  • Say a few words
  • Respond to a firm “no” by stopping what they are doing

There are certain milestones that children are evaluated for at their well-baby visits. For the 12 month visit, pointing, gesturing and waving good-bye along with a few spoken words are great signs that a baby is on track developmentally. Being able to communicate for an infant can be difficult at times because of the lack of a vocabulary. But if you watch your infant closely you can see that they’re constantly communicating with you in their own special way. And don’t worry if your child hasn’t met some or all of the developmental guides listed above. If you have any concerns about your child’s development please speak with your pediatrician.

Sources: PBS, Kids Health, ASHA

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