Do you sign with your baby? Popular books like BabyWise by Ezzo tout signing with your baby as the answer to teaching your baby manners. At around five months, you’re supposed to start teaching your baby signs for thirsty, hungry, please and thank you.
Other proponents note that babies definitely are able to think more than they can communicate. Teaching sign makes communicating basic needs much less frustrating. (Have you ever had your child repeatedly say a completely unintelligible word to their utter frustration because you can’t understand?) If only all babies signed, we could see what’s inside their heads and truly respond to their needs. This whole parenting thing might be easier, right?
Well, the truth of the matter is that sign language can really be a great thing. It is after all communicating which is a key goal during the toddler stage. Many people have stories of the weird neighbor kid who signed until he was two and didn’t speak a word but the truth is–that’s okay. Truth be told, how much your toddler talks not only depends on his development but on his personality as well. Some kids babble endlessly, others speak clear words by one year, and still others start late and let out complete, short, sentences.
I can tell you from personal experience that out of five children, all of them have fallen in wildly different places on the spectrum. I have one child who was well advanced and speaking in complete, (and no I’m not making this up) complete sentences by 15 months. I have another who was diagnosed as speech delayed only to later be “cured”. (We can’t get him to be quiet now.) Still another was right smack in the middle. And the twins speak not only intelligible English, but they also have words that are shared between them. I share this to say that “normal” here is a really big range.
So how exactly does sign language hurt your baby? Babies need to be communicated to–constantly. While this can and does include signing, it also has to include speaking, reading out loud and game playing. One study that watched preschoolers, noted that the preschoolers with advanced verbal skills consistently had mothers who claimed that talking to their babies was extremely important.
Any time you sign to your baby you should also be speaking what you’re signing. This only makes sense. Yes, signing may make it less frustrating for your child to communicate but his ability to sign shouldn’t take the place of attempts at speech. Furthmore experts say that there also should be plenty adults in the child’s life who attempt to understand what he is saying without the sign language. If his words don’t elicit a correct response, he is likely to try signing to get the same response.
I personally suspect that baby signing is just another baby bandwagon. Just like Baby Einstein and other such “bandwagons” the truth is they are very nice but when it comes down to it, it’s the one on one interaction you provide with your baby that will make him smarter!