Use sign language to communicate with baby

Dietrich signs 'more.'

One of the hallmarks of parenting is the difficult transition from inside the womb to the big, confusing outside world. Parents and their little ones struggle to be heard, to be understood and to communicate with one another.

Voice recognition begins as early as inside the womb, proven through countless studies of newborns preferring and turning their head toward their mother’s voice and away from a stranger’s. Yet, children don’t learn to reciprocate speech until around 12 months, and even then it is only a few words like “mama” and “dada”, not expressing more complex ideas like wants or needs (though they make them known through cries and screams).

In my experience with my now 18-month-old son, Dietrich, we were able to communicate as early as 6 months. By using sign language we showed him there were ways for us to communicate nonverbally. The earliest and most convenient sign he learned to tell me was “milk” by opening and closing his hand (imagine squeezing a cow udder). He quickly learned that he could reciprocate the signs we used, in order to tell us that he was “all done” with a meal or bath, wanted more food, wanted water, or wanted to play.

So here are a few pointers for using sign language with your little one.

¯Be consistent, pair signs with words or objects

¯Look for windows of opportunity — “Is she watching me closely for clues and meaning?”

¯Use simple signs that catch his attention.

¯Pay attention to her new found movements — “What actions can she reciprocate?”

¯Most importantly, have fun! Babies love to play and learn.

Besides making our lives much easier, sign language has helped us avert meltdowns. It has helped us to communicate across the room with one another without theatrics and screaming fits (from either of us). It has given Dietrich the opportunity to feel listened to, long before he is making sentences. And it has taught us as parents to watch his body language for insight on his needs, emotions and opinions long before he has the ability to express them in English.

Happy signing!


Amanda Morningstar, of Breezewood, formerly of Longfellow, and husband, Jon, have an 18-month-old son named Dietrich.