From about 10 months, your child will attempt to communicate with you using unintelligible noises and hand gestures. However, since the proficiency of this tongue and vocal chords kick in much later than his motor skills, he’s unable to vocalise his needs and wants — which leads to frustration and inevitable meltdowns.
“When Liam first entered toddlerhood he would scream a lot when he wanted something,” recalls Wong Ming Li, 33. “I didn’t know what he wanted and it led to a lot of frustration for me and him. So I read up on sign language and started teaching him easy signs for things like ‘milk’, ‘eat’ and ‘sleep’. It helped ease the tears.”
Baby signing is the use of simple hand gestures to communicate with pre-verbal babies. It’s a way to bridge the gap between when babies want to express themselves and when they actually have enough words to do so.
According to Crista Sprengers, an occupational therapist and owner of Baby Signs Singapore, which runs regular baby signing classes, you can start teaching your wee one sign language from as early as 6 months as that’s when their motor skills start developing. On average, babies will start to sign back between 10 and 12 months.
“Baby signing has many benefits — it reduces frustration, for both parent and baby, boosts self-esteem and emotional development and speeds up language development, to name just a few,” notes Sprengers.
Most babies are able to understand signs. Visually impaired littlies will obviously not be able to and it might also take longer for kids with developmental delays to grasp them; although it will still benefit these children greatly since learning to talk will also take longer for them.
Sprengers’ advice is to start with just a few. Pick a handful of signs that are easy to remember and relevant for bub and repeat it throughout the day. Some good signs to start with are “more”, “eat”, “milk” and “where is”. Add a sign for a favourite animal or toy to make it even more fun. When you are comfortable with signing you can add new signs to your vocabulary.
Make signing part of your everyday communication routine with your rugrat. “For instance whenever you say the word 'eat', also use the sign at the same time. Repetition is the key to success,” adds Sprengers.
And if you’re worried that sign language might deter your sweetie’s speech skills, don’t be. “Scientific research shows that signing with babies speeds up their language learning process,” notes Sprengers. “Much like crawling fuels the appetite for more discoveries through walking, signing will make babies hungry for more efficient and refined ways of communicating to get their needs met.”
There are several sign language programmes you can adopt, or you can also make up your own. Here are a few to get you and your young ‘un started so that both of you can experience more together: