Approximations are the signing equivalents of baby talk. Your baby is communicating and you understand him or her, although the sign is not technically correct and may be unrecognizable to other signing adults. Signs are rather complex movements to a baby, and it is likely that your baby will not use them correctly at first. For example, the sign Dad might just be a hand waving somewhere near baby’s head. You and baby know that this gesture refers to Dad, even though the sign is not correct.
It is important to encourage any signing efforts while also reinforcing correct usage. So, when my daughter signs Dad with her arm waving near her head, we encourage her by saying “Yes, Dad.” While we verbally encourage her, however, we demonstrate the correct usage (hand spread, thumb tapping on forehead). This way, she has a positive experience with signing while also continuing to learn the proper usage of signs.
This method, by the way, can also be applied to verbal language development. When children learn to speak, they also use approximations. While their baby talk might be cute, it is important to help them learn correct pronunciation to avoid speech problems. When a toddler exclaims “Look at the LELLOW dog, Mommy,” you can respond with “Yes, I see the YELLOW dog!”
Encourage effort while reinforcing correct usage.
My daughter is now crawling and climbing at every opportunity. This is such a happy and exciting stage of her development, but one that also requires some extra safety considerations.
Car Safety. I am sure that all of you remember purchasing and carefully installing your baby’s first carseat in anticipation of his or her arrival. Take the time periodically to check that your carseat is still tightly secured and that the straps and buckles are all in the proper position. If you are not certain that the seat is properly installed, find a local resource for help (many fire stations and children’s hospitals will check the installation for you). Research the current advice on rear-facing versus forward-facing positions so that you can make an informed decision on that topic. And, of course, practice safe driving… the best way to avoid injury is to avoid car accidents in the first place.
House Safety. The subject of babyproofing your home is a lengthy one. This is just a reminder to actually take the time to do it. Do your research and find out what steps you need to take in order to make your home safe for your baby. Babyproofing services are widely available if you have a larger budget and wish to hire someone else to do the work.
Emergency Preparedness. Do you know where the closest children’s hospital is and how to get there? Is your pediatrician’s phone number programmed into your phone? Do you know infant CPR? Is your medicine cabinet stocked with basic first aid items and common medications for childhood illnesses (it is much easier to buy liquid Tylenol while grocery shopping than in the middle of the night when your baby wakes up with a high fever… I have learned that one the hard way)? Do you have a reliable book written by a pediatrician that addresses childhood illnesses and the appropriate treatments? I don’t want to scare anyone, but these questions are worth considering. Be smart and be prepared. Illnesses and injuries are never expected events, so take the time now to gather information. You can also teach intermediate and advanced signers a few basic signs around safety, such as hurt. So that if a situation does arise, baby can tell you she is hurt and where.
Keep your precious babies safe! No need to be neurotic about the whole thing (bruises and viruses are a fact of life), but please do be smart.
I know that my daughter isn’t the only baby out there with wonderful, adoring grandparents. I hope that your babies are similarly blessed with extended family members (I’ll refer to grandparents here, but this applies to all loved ones) who are involved in their very special young lives. Do your baby’s grandparents know about Baby Sign Language? If you are practicing BSL then it is time to bring the grandparents on board, too!
Getting other family members on board with signing helps increase baby’s exposure. And having other people on board also helps you stick with it. Grandparents love it as well, because it gives them an activity they can do with grandchildren.
If the grandparents are web-savvy, send them to over to our site. Otherwise, teach them a few basic signs in person. We recommend that grandparents start by learning the signs for grandma, grandpa, and two or three basic signs that are most relevant. Once they see how much fun (and useful!) it is to use Baby Sign Language, they are certain to be as enthusiastic about signing as you and your baby are.
Practice is the key to signing success. Every signing adult that your baby interacts with will offer opportunities to practice. Baby will be able to communicate more effectively with adults who understand Baby Sign Language. Ultimately, this increased communication will strengthen those relationships. What grandparent doesn’t want to be even closer to the beloved baby in their life?
Share your enthusiasm for Baby Sign Language with your baby’s grandparents and other special adults. You might just win a few new signing enthusiasts to join the fun!