Updated: Dec 29, 2018
Imagine being hungry but having no way to convey that sensation to others or ability to get food yourself. Picture your intestines filling up with trapped gas but unable to tell anyone about your pain and helpless to do anything about it. Try telling someone that you have to use the restroom when you have no words or symbols to relay this urge. What happens when you're thirsty but can't tell anyone what you need and you can't get it yourself? This is how many babies and toddlers feel all day, everyday. Now, imagine how frustrating that would be! Babies can be given the power of communicating their needs at such a young age. Children less than one can use their hands to communicate before they can use their words. This proves that children are capable of understanding verbal language at a MUCH younger age than when able to express verbal language. What does that mean?
It means that these babies and toddlers know what they want to communicate but don't know how to relay the message. So they get frustrated and cry. Wouldn't you?
As caregivers for these children, caring for them would be so much easier if they could tell us what they need. This is why it is important to understand that we do have the power to give them this ability which can make life so much more pleasant for both child and caregiver. As soon as a child is born, that child is very capable of learning sign language. Using simple signs throughout the day with your baby will give him or her the connection needed between an object or action and two different ways to relay them to others, verbal and sign.
Here is a video of my 15 month old signing for more tomatoes. You can see how patient you have to be to wait for the baby to have the need and then the urge to communicate it to you. During this meal, we are working on signs for tomato, chicken, and more only.
In this video, my other 15 month old is clearly wanting to communicate her desire to watch Baby Signing Time with Rachel Coleman, her favorite DVD. These videos have been instrumental in our house for both adult learning and baby learning as well.
With daily practice, both you and your child can even communicate with each other from across the room without making a sound. Every time they drink milk, sign milk repetitively. Every time they eat food, start by signing eat repetitively until you can branch off into signing specific foods. When they are sad, help them recognize what that emotion is and how to communicate it by saying and showing the word with the sign repetitively. When you say no or yes, sign them every single time you say it. When daddy comes home, sign and say daddy repetitively. You will feel like a broken record but,
...the more you repeat and demonstrate each word, the more ingrained it will become in the language centers of both of your brains.
Eventually, your child will be able to use signs to assist with interpersonal interactions and practice the social skills needed for a back and forth conversation. This is a video of my daughter (the one from the first video posted above), at the age of 18 months. You can see that her verbal skills are not as well developed as her signing so she uses her hands to get her point across successfully.
A great place to start would be these 21 basic signs your baby should know by Parenting.com