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Armin Brott - Mr Dad

Armin Brott - Mr Dad

Armin Brott is a nationally recognized parenting expert. The leading author of books on fatherhood, his best-selling works have sold millions of copies worldwide.

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Dear Mr. Dad: A friend of ours says she’s taught her seven-month old how to do sign language. Her baby isn’t deaf, but our friend says that she and the baby can actually communicate! Is this possible? If so, how can I find out more about it?

A: By the time they’re eight or nine months, babies are eager to communicate. And although we generally think of signing as a resources for the hearing impaired, just a few decades ago, researchers began to notice that children whose parents were hearing impaired and who taught their children to sign, were able to communicate before they were nine months old. Children with two hearing parents don’t usually have much to say until after their first birthday.

Chances are you’re already doing some signing with your baby. After all, waving “bye-bye” is a sign, right? If you want to go a little further, start by making up a few gestures of your own. The experts suggest beginning with a few familiar words like “mommy” and “daddy” and “drink” and building from there. The secret is repetition—using the signs every chance you get—the same thing you did to teach your baby to wave “bye-bye.” If you’re using a sign for “drink,” say the word and make the sign every time you give your baby a drink.

Some parents worry that signing will slow their children’s verbal skills development. Don’t. The truth is that hearing the words over and over will actually help your baby’s verbal skills. Plus, there’s some evidence that kids who learn signs as babies learn to speak earlier and have larger vocabularies than kids who don’t sign. Signing may also improve babies’ motor skills, reduce tantrums and frustration, and has even been linked with an increase in IQ. Signing with your baby is good for you too. When you understand what your baby wants you’ll have fewer tears to deal with and you (and your partner) will be less frustrated. When you’re feeling relaxed and in-control, parenting is a lot easier and a lot more fun. And that, in turn will bring you and your baby closer.

There are several major baby signing systems out there. All are based on American Sign Language (ASL), but there are some important distinctions.

  • Joseph Garcia’s Sign with Your Baby adheres strictly to ASL. Most of the signs your baby will learn are fairly intuitive, such as touching the fingers to the lips for “eat,” and hooking the thumbs together and flapping the hands for “butterfly.” Others are a little tougher to figure out (touching the thumb to the forehead for “dad” and to the chin for “mom”) or may be difficult for little hands (putting the thumb between the first and middle fingers of a fist for “toilet” or holding up your hand as if indicating “five” and lowering the middle and ring fingers for “airplane”).
  • Linda Acredolo’s and Susan Goodwyn’s Baby Signs, is a little more flexible. Their theory is that since your baby isn’t going to be using sign language all that long, it’s best to make it as easy to learn as possible. So parents are encouraged to modify the ASL signs as they see fit and to invent their own. This could make communication with people outside the family a little tougher. However, most of the signs you and your baby are likely to come up with will be pretty easy to decipher.
  • My Baby Can Talk (http://www.mybabycantalk.com/) has some great resources, including research on sign language and a dictionary of signs.
    All of these systems are excellent and give you and your baby an incredible opportunity to communicate with each other. I like Baby Signs and My Baby Can Talk a little better, though, because the flexibility appeals to me. If you go this route, try to use as many of the ASL signs as you can and modify them only as necessary.

However, if you prefer a more systematic approach or, if there are any deaf people in your family, Sign with Your Baby is the way to go. And even though, as I mentioned above, some of the signs aren’t completely obvious, if you practice them enough, you’ll do fine.

Whatever you do, try to make signing fun. You could end up having some interesting conversations with your child, or you might not. But just spending time with each other can give you and your baby a great chance to deepen the bond between you, which is really what good communication is all about.

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