From the moment your baby is born, he begins to communicate. Every little cry means something and it's your job to figure out what. And that's when parents can get frustrated.
But you don't have to wait until your baby develops verbal skills to teach him to tell you what he needs. Instead, consider equipping him with an additional language he can use now: signing.
Gestures are central to language, according to Drs. Craig and Sharon Ramey, authors of the book Right from Birth (Goddard Press). "Since imitation is a big part of learning, young children are quick to pick up moves for ?wave bye-bye,' ?come here' and ?peek-a-boo.' As with words, your baby's repertoire of gestures will grow as he learns."
Signing doesn't replace the spoken word, but rather enhances your baby's communication skills before he's capable of speech. As you and your baby develop your own sign language, continue to speak the words as you use the gestures in an effort to develop his speech.
To begin teaching your child to sign, identify a few words you use every day with your baby. For example, we taught our baby "all done." Now, when he's finished eating and wants out of his high chair, he pushes his hands away from his little body, his sign for "all done." He can tell us exactly what he wants without whining or throwing food on the floor.
Once you decide what words or ideas you want your baby to sign, pick up a book on sign language from the library or simply make up your own signs. The key is to come up with easy gestures that will give your child the ability to communicate. Use the gestures consistently as you talk to your baby. Encourage your spouse, older children and care providers to get involved in this effort. Everyone should know the signs you've chosen and begin to use them.
Here are a few signs to get you started:
· Please - rub your chest with your hand in a circular motion.
· Thank you - with your fingers together, place tips of the fingers against your mouth and throw hand forward (like blowing a kiss).
· Hungry - with your hand cupped, place it just below your throat, palm inward, and bring the hand down.
· Thirsty - slide the tip of your index finger down the front of your throat.
· More - bring the tips of your fingers and thumb together, then tap the fingertips of both hands together. (My son simply taps two fists together.)
· All done - open your hands with palms facing chest, sweep hands down and away.
· Stop - bring the little-finger side of your right hand down quickly on the left palm.
Be patient. No matter how brilliant your baby may be, she won't begin signing overnight. You can start to familiarize your child with a few signs when she's about 6 months old, although she may not start to use them until she's closer to a year.
Don't worry if your baby doesn't perform the motions perfectly. As long as you understand what your baby's trying to tell you, you've succeeded.
Camp manager, writer and mother of one
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1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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