Practical advice for new parents

Baby Sign Language

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Most parents of older babies and toddlers know that many of the tantrums and meltdowns that their children experience begin with frustration over not being able to effectively communicate. From about the age of nine months until about 30 months, most children's ideas are far more complex than their language skills allow them to express. Because of this, baby sign language has grown in popularity both with parents and child experts as a way to bridge this communication gap.

As a child grows, large muscle coordination is acquired much earlier than small muscle coordination. Thus, shaking a head or moving a hand comes sooner than the intricate muscle control needed to move the lips, jaw, and tongue to formulate words. At younger than one year, most babies already have a desire and the ability to learn meaningful words such as 'no' and 'bye-bye', and many babies instinctively pick up non-verbal ways to communicate these concepts such as by shaking their heads or waving their hands.

Although there are many resources available today that will teach you and your baby sign language, you can also effectively develop your own simple sign language that will work for your family. Your baby sign language doesn't need to match anyone else's, and the most effective signs are those that represent the common everyday requests and words that your baby might need. The key to effective baby sign language is simply to use both the word and the sign you've chosen to represent it every time. Your child will naturally make the connection between the sign and the word.

Most children have a desire to communicate their requests for food, beverages, a clean diaper, or to be picked up, and there are simple signs that they can use. For example, touching their mouth when they want to eat or tilting their head back when they want a drink can be very clear and easy to identify.

This basic form of baby sign language can not only minimize tantrums and frustration, but can also help parents develop early connections with their children.