Babies are born ready to communicate. So why do they just eat, sleep and cry? Because their motor control has not caught up with their desire to express themselves! Most babies (thank goodness!) are born knowing how to breathe and swallow and cry. They have control over very little else about their bodies.
To talk, babies must develop fine motor control of their vocal cords. They begin to get intelligible, intentional words at some point between 9 and 15 months old on average. Lots of things can affect that time line and push it later. Temperament, genetics, illness, stress, older siblings, bilingual influences are just a few examples. Getting enough language to be able to express ideas like “I’m hungry” or “my stomach hurts” or “it’s too cold in here” can take a child more than two years to express with spoken language. So, most babies have a year or two of frustrations because of their lack of s fundamental expressive language.
Gross motor skills take much less time begin significant development. The ability to push, pull, grab, and otherwise move hands and arms are well within the abilities of most 6-12 month olds.
Children who learn to use these gross motor skills to meet their own expressive language desires experience less frustration! That’s right, Baby Sign Language is a great way for small children to express their needs and desires before they could possibly learn to talk.
Before medical school, I trained as an American Sign Language interpreter. Seven or so years later, when our first son was born, my husband and I decided to see if he could learn some signs. We started with “milk.” When he was about four months old (though I now know you can start younger) we would wrap a huge hand around his little one and make the sign for milk with him and then immediately feed him. It didn’t take long for him to approximate that sign when he was hungry. Oh, he would still cry! But as soon as he had our attention he would stop crying and start signing.
Since that time, we’ve had three more sons. They each have different temperaments and personalities, but they have all learned signs in the first few months of life that have eased our communication.
Baby Sign Language won’t cure colic. It won’t change a baby’s personality. It will help you understand better what your baby wants. It will teach your child they can count on you to figure out what she wants. Even better, BSL can help your child learn, from a very young age, to ask for things respectfully!
Teach great habits. Use BSL to model respect for your baby’s needs. Use BSL to teach your baby to ask for things with a “please” and then respond with a “thank you!”
Dr. G (Deborah Gilboa, MD) is a board certified family physician, mother of four and professional parenting speaker and writer who works with parents to help them raise children they can respect and admire. She is also fluent in American Sign Language. To learn more about Dr. G visit http://www.AskDoctorG.com or on Twitter @AskDocG