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Success with Baby Sign Language

Tonight during dinner, it occurred to me how glad I am that I taught sign language to my son.

I am home alone with both kids for dinner, bath and bedtime (for the sixth time out of the last seven days). I am exhausted and my patience is wearing thin. Oliver started fussing while eating and, since he isn’t old enough to really communicate, it’s hard to know what he wants.

Instead of having a meltdown, Oliver used sign language to tell me he wanted milk. I would have never guessed he wanted milk because he doesn’t usually have milk with dinner.

When I realized that this simple tool just saved my sanity, I felt proud… and sort of vindicated.

You see, teaching a baby sign language is not easy. Obviously, it’s not impossible, but everyone who cares for the child needs to be involved in the process. Trying to get dad, babysitters, and grandparents on board was a bit difficult. But, the consistency and repetition is important.

I am not one of those over-achiever parents. I just want to do things that make life easier and better for my kids and for me.

My sister, Susan, taught her daughter to sign and I remember promising I would do the same one day. While other kids her age were getting frustrated and throwing tantrums, my niece had a tool with which she could communicate her basic needs. This made her so much more calm and well-adjusted. It seemed like a no brainer to me.

We started teaching Oliver sign language when he was about five months old, just in case he was a baby genius. That was a bit overzealous and we probably should have waited a few more months, as he didn’t really start using his first signs until he was about 10-12 months old.

The signs we taught Oliver were very basic needs for babies – hungry (eat and more), thirsty (water and milk), finished, and tired. I also attempted some others like dog, up, down, and book; but they weren’t really important, so I gave up trying.

I am so glad I taught Oliver to sign because he now has a little independence over his needs. He is a very happy boy and I think being able to tell me what he wants is beneficial to his disposition.

When the time comes to teach Jack sign language, I will definitely take the opportunity. I will try to do these things:

  • Start at 7 months old
  • Be very consistent in using the sign whenever I use the word
  • Follow up the sign / word with the action
  • Put a word to any signs that he makes up himself (Oliver rubbed his eyes when he was tired, so I started saying “tired” to make the connection and it stuck)
  • Be very, very patient
  • Remember that a few months without him responding will be rewarded with a year of far fewer tantrums

Have you tried this with your kids? What did you like or not like about it? Please share your experience… I still have a lot to learn!

5 Responses to “Success with Baby Sign Language”

  1. Arley

    Thanks for posting this Mary. I want to teach Althea sign language, but I wasn’t sure when to start. 🙂

    • marylemonwater

      Good luck, Arley! As long as you stick with it, teaching sign language is not that hard. Just takes commitment, which I know you can manage!

  2. vrein11

    Oh man!! I tried to teach my middles sign language and some of them got it. One of them would not use the sign until he signed and spoke the word together!! thanks for this!

    • marylemonwater

      Isn’t it funny how their little minds work!? Oliver said “woof woof” for the dogs long before he could sign it.


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