Parents are always trying to find ways how to understand their child better and sooner. More and more often, new approaches and methods are being developed that help families communicate with their child shortly after birth. That’s because even infants are trying to communicate with their surroundings. They perceive their mother’s voice and human language even before they are born – i.e. in the womb. After birth, children can differentiate a human voice from other sounds and react to it. However, it takes some time before children are able to control their voice system and say first words and sentences. But this doesn’t mean they don’t perceive the world around them and do not wish to communicate with it. They just do it differently than us adults. How?
Whenever you ask a kid “How tall you want to be?”, they don’t use words to answer; instead they stretch their hands above their head and say “I want to be this tall”. Even simple acts like this are a way of communication. Small kids use their hands just like adults use words. When a child’s finger points at something the child sees, a conversation can begin. For example, when a child points at a dog on the street, the parents react immediately by saying that it’s a doggy, they describe what it looks like and where it might be going. And even though kids don’t participate in the dialogue yet, they carefully listen to everything the parent says.
Using signs or gestures to communicate and understand the needs and wishes of children might seem like a strenuous, difficult method because parents first need to learn the signs themselves and then teach their children as well. But it’s actually quite the opposite.
For example, when you use specific signs while describing a dog to the child – pointing to your ears, eyes, showing a tail with your hands – the child will remember the given word better. Next time you meet a dog, the child will automatically touch its ears. This is already communication through signs. And they are not difficult signs at all – most of the time they are just gestures that anyone can do.
We often use signs together with movements. What do you do when you are in a noisy room and need someone to come closer? Even waving your hands can be a sign. Just as when you say goodbye to your little one. You say “bye bye” and at the same time wave your hands. The child usually waves back at you. It is therefore possible to show basic notions through movement and we often do it without thinking.
You all know those troubling moments when your child is crying and sad, trying to tell you something but you don’t know what. It is very frustrating and stressful for the child if they cannot express their needs in a way which you can understand. And if you are struggling to understand what your child wants or needs, you become sad and frustrated as well. It is in moments like this when using sign language is liberating both for parents and children. By using simple gestures that even infants can do, children can say what they desire, what’s troubling them, or just share their experiences. By themselves, they often come up with gestures that help them specify the thing they have in mind. Thanks to that, they are less frustrated and tearful.
Not only can signs help children learn how to speak and communicate faster; it is also very beneficial for children with delayed speech development or autism. It helps children understand the meaning of some words, connections, or just express their feelings.
Studies have also shown that children who communicated with gestures or signs from the age of 6 months said their first world earlier and also learned how to talk earlier. Usually, children start saying their first words between 1 and 2 years of age and the average vocabulary of a 1-year old infant is 3 words. If the child uses signs before learning how to talk, they began to say first words between 10 and 12 months of age and their average vocabulary is 10 words.
There are 3 main periods when parents began to use gestures for communication with their children. Some parents want to begin very early, shortly after birth. The advantage of such an early start is that the parents and people around have time to get used to using signs in communication. However, the disadvantage is that it can take months before the child starts to use signs and react to its surroundings actively. Parents can therefore lose patience and motivation.
Other parents start with the signs when the child is about 12 months old. This period is convenient due to the fact that at this age, children start to be actively interested in the world around them and they are able to react to intentional communication. You can see the results very fast and the child is able to master using gestures in a couple of days. But if they learn to use signs at such a “high” age, they will not use it for very long.
The most recommended “golden mean” is the age of 6 months. But none of the above mentioned periods is necessarily good or wrong – it mostly depends on whether the family is ready to start it, whether they have enough time, space and will to communicate with the child more.
Create a sign for each of the activities you do the most – such as eating, drinking, having a bath, going for a walk. Show the signs to grandma, grandpa, family friend and neighbour and everytime the given activity is happening, use the sign. If the signs will appear in the communication often, the child will learn them fast and start using them. And if they can master a couple of basic signs, they will soon learn other ones that will make communication between them and you easier.
But you don’t have to limit yourself to the above mentioned basic notion. For example, when your child is crying or is angry, you try the usual signs like “drink, food, dummy, toy” and nothing helps, you will appreciate some advanced signs that will help you discover what your child actually needs. Create a sign for “hug”, “enough”, “more”, “done”, “light”, “want”, “change nappy”.
There are many books on the market that can serve as your inspiration, such as “Baby Signs” by Susan Goodwyn a Lindy Acredolo. There are also many interesting videos and even courses on the internet that you can take part in. There are simply many options available. We wish you a lot of fun and successful communication!
Author: Alzbeta Poskocilova, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning
ACREDOLO, Linda P. a Susan GOODWYN. Baby signs program: světově nejrozšířenější program znakové řeči pro batolata : průvodce pro rodiče. Kněžmost: Nuerasoft, c2007. ISBN 9788025411858.
ACREDODO, Linda P. a Susan GOODWYN. Baby Signs: How to Talk with Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk. 3.vyd.New York: McGraw-Hill, 2009. ISBN: 0071615032.
VASILOVČÍK ŠUSTOVÁ, Terezie. Jak se domluvit s kojencem a batoletem: komunikujeme přirozenými znaky a gesty. Praha: Grada, 2008. Pro rodiče. ISBN 9788024723365
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