We joke around that babies are SO sweet…until they start to say, “NO!” But there is a short period of time in baby’s life when she simply doesn’t have words (not even, “No”). The inability of our little ones to fully communicate what is going on in their heads can lead to various outbursts that look like tantrums or frustration. But it IS the earliest form of communication for them – we just can’t quite understand them.
Figuring out a way to communicate effectively with baby at this crucial early time in her life is life-changing! If you are like me as a mom, you cherish the littlest moments with your sweet child; savoring each “Goo” and “Gah.” But, you often struggle when it comes to the not-so sweet moments. The grunts and the growls, the screams and screeches are likely the last thing you were looking forward to while gently caressing your pregnant tummy and dreaming of mommy-hood.
That is why I am so thankful for baby sign language.
I am not a child development expert and I have no credentials other than being a mom of four. But I highly recommend learning some very basic baby signs and teaching them to your little ones, starting at a very early age. We have practiced simple baby sign language with all four of our little ones with great success.
I think some people can go a little overboard on the baby sign thing, teaching an entire vocabulary of signs to their babies. Honestly, I do not need my baby to give me a dissertation in hand signals; I just want to know their basic needs. So here are FIVE simple baby signs we use with our little ones (along with how and when to introduce them).
Baby Sign #1: “All done”
When to introduce: As early as possible.
How to use: At the end of diaper changes (while we have her undivided attention). Finishing up meals. When concluding an activity. And sometimes (rarely and early) to attempt to stop an inappropriate behavior.
The sign: We actually made up our own sign for this: simply wipe your hands once or twice (like you are finished with a dusty job and are getting the dust off your hands). For more on why I made up some of my own signs, check out 5 Tips for Making Baby Signs Work for You.
OR: Hold both hands up at your sides palms facing out and shake gently back and forth (this is the “accepted” baby sign).
Baby Sign #2: “Come Here”
When to introduce: As early as possible.
How to use: This is almost an involuntary thing in our house. I just think it helps communicate to our little one that we would like to hold her. But, if shown to your wee one at a very early age, she will start to lift her arms up to you when you do it. It is not only heart-melting, but is an early indication of a connection made!
The sign: Hold your hands at your sides and fold them in toward you.
Baby Sign #3: “More”
When to introduce: When introducing table foods for the first time.
How to use: Copiously!! It is the most important sign! At first, you might feel it is a futile thing to do each time you give baby a bite, but the repetition makes all the difference. You will notice his head turns toward the spoon and all focus in on the food as soon as you say and show the sign.
It takes some time for babies to make the transition from watching you sign to doing the sign themselves. You will find he will start to do it around the same time he starts clapping. Once he gets it, you will see it often (especially if you have an enthusiastic eater) and you may notice him using it while playing, too! It is great for communication away from the dinner table!
The sign: Hold first two fingers and thumbs on each hand together and tap together once or twice.
Baby Sign #4: “Please”
When to introduce: Age one. Baby will make a quick connection that this is the “magic word.” When she does the sign, she gets the prize! Waiting until age one will make it easy for baby to learn quickly. Our babies learned it in less than a week!
How to use: We used it primarily at the dinner table at first, but it soon made the transition to play, reading, and other activities. It is baby’s first etiquette lesson!
The sign: Hold your hand flat in front of your chest and move it in a circular motion.
Baby Sign #5: “Help”
When to introduce: Twelve – fourteen months old. This one is so important for babies who are starting to explore and are becoming more independent.
How to use: In play. In everyday activities.
This is the tantrum-avoidance sign! You may notice your little one is struggling with opening something, climbing on the couch, doing an activity her motor skills aren’t quite ready for. And then you start to see her get that frustrated look. Then you start hearing exasperated noises (from a low growl to a high-pitched scream). This is when you say, as calmly as you can, “Before you get frustrated, ask for (doing the sign), “Help.” It will make all the difference in the world!
The sign: Hold one hand in front of your body, palm up. Place other hand in a fist, with thumb up over other hand and push both hands up.
This small list of baby signs are have been such a life-saver in our early years! And I think you will find they facilitate communication with your little ones, too! You can find out what your baby is thinking and more importantly what she needs! If you plan to introduce these simple baby signs to your little one, I recommend you also read: Five Tips for Making Baby Signs Work for You.