Tag Archives: baby signing

Baby Signing a Practical Way of Communicating

By Jamie Birdsong Nieroda, attachment parenting leader (API of Suffolk County-Long Island, New York, USA)

I was never one of those people, pre-kids, who romanticized parenting. I worried instead about how my baby and I would communicate and how I would deduce from her cries the action required to meet her needs.

My sister had used some basic baby signs with my niece Dakota, teaching her to sign “more” and “milk,” but the significance of this seemingly simple form of communication didn’t hit home until one afternoon when my sister was trying to help Dakota fall asleep by giving her a backrub. When she stopped, Dakota sat up and signed “more.”

I was fascinated by how she had extrapolated a sign previously used only to request more food to ask for more massage. In that moment, I realized the potential that signing had for a deeper level of communication.

We’ve used it twice now, with two different approaches, both times with success, connection, and unimaginable delight. It allowed our sweet ones to communicate their needs and interests while providing us with ever-amazing glimpses into their complex minds. With each sign, it was evident that our recognition and understanding of their communication gave a sense of confidence to our preverbal children as well as showed them we were interested in what they had to say. I’ve come to realize that it is not only helpful in understanding my baby’s basic needs but has opened up a rich and ever-rewarding vehicle of sharing my child’s excitement for the world.

When our firstborn, Aviv, was about six months old, we began showing her a couple baby signs, following the advice in Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn. At eight months, Aviv signed “flower” for the first time and began to use it to point out flowers everywhere. A week later, I sat nursing Aviv in my in-law’s home where we had been staying for an extended visit. We had talked often about the vase of silk flowers sitting on our room’s dresser. I sniffed loudly to clear my nose. Aviv stopped nursing immediately and turned to look at the bouquet. She smiled and signed “flower” and then laughed. This was our first adorably brilliant signing miscommunication, opening the door for more communication: “You thought when I cleared my nose I was talking to you about the flowers! My nose is stuffed up and I need to blow it, so I was sniffing.”

At 10 months, Aviv began signing “dog.” The first time she used the sign, we were taking an evening stroll and she “commented” on the incessant barking of a neighborhood dog. She began signing “dog” to communicate about anything related to our pooch, like when she played with Maya’s leash or passed her water bowl. “Milk,” “eat,” “fan,” and “hat” soon followed. We were amazed at how much of the world she understood without our full comprehension minus this under-used communication device. When, compelled by our own fascination, we would note to a stranger that she was signing “water” because she saw a river in a painting, the question inevitably asked was if she was deaf. Most people have never heard of baby signing. One friend commented that our babies seemed so aware, and what we were learning is that they all are in degrees both staggering and easily discovered with American Sign Language (ASL).

Baby Signing with Aviv

Aviv was signing five signs at one year old when my husband’s boss told him how her daughter had been slow to talk and that learning to communicate through sign language had decreased her frustration and limited tantrums. She offered to loan a video series called Signing Time to us if we were interested. I hesitated as I wanted Aviv to be media-free, yet I also recognized the value and impact of sign language not only on her ability to communicate but also on our relationship with her. She was no longer unable to communicate what she saw. For instance, when she was 11 months old, I had my hair wrapped in a towel. Aviv signed “hat,” which gave me the insight needed to explain, “Yes, this towel goes on my head just like a hat does. I put a towel on my head to dry my hair some before I brush it.”

When Aviv was 12 months old, we were driving along in the car and she pointed out the window and signed “tree.” As we talked about the newly leafed trees, she signed “gentle” and “flower,” identifying our past discussions of being gentle with flowers and allowing me to link all of these thoughts together. At 14 months, she signed “potty” emphatically as I pulled the trashcan down to the curb. I looked around, knowing there was a clear reason if I could discover it. Our dog was peeing on the lawn behind me, so we got a laugh together and I told her, “Yes, Maya sure is going potty! We go inside on the toilet, but she waits until she is outside to pee in the grass.” So many conversation-starters and continued language acquisition began through our children’s ability to allow us to enter their world with a reference point. Continue reading Baby Signing a Practical Way of Communicating

Baby Sign Language as an Attachment Tool

By Linda Acredo, PhD, and Susan Goodwyn, PhD, co-founders of the Baby Signs® Program

Lisa Smith, a young mother of two little girls, was at her wits end, and very worried. She knew enough about child development to understand that things weren’t going well between her and her six-month-old daughter, Melissa.

In stark contrast to her experience with first-born Laura, whose sunny disposition made parenting a joy, Melissa seemed to have come into the world with a chip on her shoulder. So easily frustrated was she that much of Lisa’s day was spent trying to figure out how to quiet her crying. It wasn’t colic, according to the pediatrician – just a fussy temperament that Lisa would have to learn to live with, and love. And that’s what had Lisa worried. Instead of feeling unconditional love for Melissa, she was feeling more and more frustration and resentment – emotions that she feared Melissa was feeling, too.

The Very Important First Two Years

The importance of loving your children is not earth-shattering news. What may be news to many parents, however, is the certainty with which researchers point to the first two years of life as especially critical – as the time when a child’s basic outlook on the world is forming. What’s more, research has also shown that, without a doubt, the factor most predictive of a positive outlook is a healthy and happy caregiver-infant bond.

That’s where the word “attachment” comes in. This is the term used by child psychologists to label the emotional bond that forms between children and the significant adults in their lives starting soon after birth. We’re indebted to a British clinical psychologist, Dr. John Bowlby, for discovering the critical nature of this early bond. Based in part on the emotional damage he had seen among refugee orphans from World War II, as well as on children in his own clinical practice, Bowlby became convinced that the first two years of a child’s emotional life were not only relevant, but absolutely critical to future emotional well-being.

When that bond is positive in nature, enabling children to trust a parent as a source of comfort and safety, the attachment is called “secure.” In contrast, when the bond is problematic, when children do not view a parent as trustworthy, the attachment is called “insecure.”

What every parent hopes for is a secure attachment with their baby. But how does a parent go about making sure that happens?

Thanks to Bowlby’s colleague, Dr. Mary Ainsworth, we now know that two of the most important ingredients are “sensitivity” and “responsiveness” on the part of the parent. In other words, the ability to read the baby well (know what he or she needs) and the willingness to meet those needs in a timely fashion.

The bottom line of the attachment relationship: Children fall in love with those who meet their physical needs for food and warmth, comfort them when they are hurt, protect them when they are frightened, and, in general, make them feel respected, understood, and loved.

How Baby Signing Can Strengthen The Parent-Child Bond

Few of these wonderful words described Lisa and Melissa’s relationship. With both mother and baby experiencing daily doses of frustration and resentment, the danger of an insecure attachment was looming large. But that’s not what happened! Instead, the relationship began a dramatic turnaround in a matter of months, a change that Lisa credits to the introduction of signing into their interactions with Melissa.

Specifically, Lisa began modeling signs that she thought her daughter might be able to use to communicate her needs more effectively – that is, without having to resort to crying. And it worked!

The success Lisa had comes as no surprise, given our decades of research on the benefits of signing with hearing babies – research conducted at the University of California with the help of funds from the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. In addition to data proving that signing accelerates, rather than hinders, verbal development and promotes intellectual progress, we had also uncovered convincing evidence that signing contributes significantly to the formation of a positive relationship between parent and child in the first years of life.

As adults, we tend to forget what a complicated job babies face when they want to learn to talk. Unfortunately, until babies can conquer all the intricate movements necessary for speech, they are literally at a loss for words to tell us what’s on their minds. Learning to use simple signs bypasses all these obstacles, enabling babies to communicate effectively months earlier than would be possible were they to wait for words.

A secure attachment is based on a baby experiencing lots of good times with parents relative to the number of frustrating and anxiety-ridden times. Anything that increases the number of positive interactions and decreases the number of negative interactions is going to help parent and child forge a healthy relationship. And this is exactly what signs do. Here’s how:

  • Because signs make the task of “reading” the baby so much easier, they help parents meet their baby’s needs efficiently, reducing everyone’s frustration and decreasing tears and tantrums.
  • Parents who are watching for signs are paying closer attention to whatever their baby does, thus increasing the chance that even non-sign signals will be detected and responded to appropriately.
  • Signs help parents learn that their baby is fully capable of feeling loved and secure or anxious and rejected. That knowledge leads to the understanding that it really matters what a parent does.
  • Signs enable babies to share their worlds with their parents, thereby increasing the joy that each takes in the other’s company.

Baby Signing Isn’t Difficult to Learn…or to Teach

People who first hear about signing with babies think that it must be difficult to do, that it’s too much to add to a frazzled parent’s busy day. Nothing could be further from the truth. All that’s necessary is to do the same thing parents do to teach their babies to wave “bye-bye”: Simply say the word while modeling the motion as the baby watches. Repeat the pairing of the word and the sign frequently and, after babies have witnessed enough of these episodes, they begin to use the sign themselves.

A Real-Life Example

So, how did signs help Lisa and Melissa? According to Lisa: “As soon as Melissa began to sign, like magic, everything began to change. My husband, Wayne, noticed it, too. Finally, Melissa could let me know what she needed or wanted without crying all the time. She seemed as relieved as we were!

“And beyond that, she really enjoyed letting us know when she saw things she thought were neat,” Lisa continued. “One time in the park. we saw a boy with a big dog. They were playing with a soccer ball. I just assumed she’d be interested in the dog, so I started talking about it. But then she made the sign for ‘ball’ and smiled when I said, ‘Oh! You see the ball!’ When I started talking about the ball instead, she relaxed back in her strolling and really seemed to listen.”

“Things like that happened every day,” Lisa concluded. “Wayne and I were absolutely enchanted and, for just about the first time, we were actually eager to spend time with her. I really hate to think what our relationship would be like today if it hadn’t been for the signs.”


About the Baby Signs® Program
Drawing extensively from American Sign Language (ASL), the Baby Signs® Program teaches parents how to help their babies communicate using simple movements like fingers to lips for EAT, finger tips tapped together for MORE, and fist opening and closing for MILK. With signs like these and many more, babies can let parents know that they are hungry, thirsty, need more of something, or even that they feel feverish (HOT) or are experiencing pain (HURT). In addition to helping babies get their needs met, signing also enables babies to share the joys of their worlds with their parents. Babies are fascinated by what they see and hear as they move through their days and want their parents to share in their discoveries. Having simple signs to point out the BUTTERFLY in the garden, the CAT hiding in the bushes, or the DOG they hear barking outside provides babies a way to do just that. For more information, visit www.babysigns.com.