Crying is a baby's way of telling mom or dad that she's hungry, sleepy, or uncomfortable. Unfortunately, there's a lot of guess work involved in this and a common source of a parent's frustration especially when it's 2 in the morning. If your baby's cries are making you tear your hair out, have you ever thought of baby sign language?
Baby sign language is for hearing children, and it's a form of communication that you and your child can engage in while she hasn't learned to talk yet. During the "Smart Parenting Convention" held last July 30, Sharon Agoncillo-Galang, certified instructor of the Baby Signs Program and the managing director of Baby Signs Philippines, had talked to SP moms about the benefits of baby sign language and how to do it at home.
What is baby sign language You may not have realized it, but you’ve already taught your child a few sign gestures. “As Pinoys, we teach and play ‘close open’ with our babies. Then there’s ‘A line’ when they’re a little older, and ‘apir’ later on. Why not expand your signing vocabulary in such a way that’s relevant to the parent and baby’s everyday routines?” said Agoncillo-Galang.
There's a designated sign for a specific word in baby sign language. The first signs Agoncillo-Galang recommends introducing to a child is “mommy,” “daddy,” and “milk.” (Click on the words to see how to act them out.) These words are used a lot in everyday interactions with your baby after all. Because these are also likely to be your baby’s first words, these are also the first signs your baby will stop using when she starts talking.
As an example of how baby sign language works for both parent and child, Agoncillo-Galang shared a simple story. When her daughter was 8 months old, the mom said, she could already sign a few words including “milk.” So, when the little one would wake up and cry in the middle of the night, mom and dad already knew what their baby wanted. They would see her doing the sign for “milk” and be able to soothe her right away. “Wala nang guesswork na nangyayari, so it's easier,” she said.
Benefits of baby sign language One major benefit of baby sign language is that it decreases a child’s frustration when she’s unable to tell mom or dad what she wants. Celebrity mom Bianca Gonzales shared that this is her 21-month-old daughter Lucia’s common cause of tantrums. “Kapag ayaw kumain, ayan na, mag-aarte siya. I think part of it is she can’t really talk yet and can’t express herself, so she gets frustrated” the mom told Smart Parenting.
“She says a few words pero not like sentences, not phrases. She communicates through just one word, or she points, or signs in her way. It’s hard sometimes; we have to figure it out,” Bianca added. With baby sign language, you and your child can have your way of talking with each other that both of you will understand.
Baby sign language can also boost verbal language development, said Agoncillo-Galang. “With only one sign, you can teach child kid many, many words. Remember, when you do signing you also speak to your child. So, when you start communicating with your kid like “Gutom na ang baby ko?” with matching sign for “hungry” and dami-dami mong sinabi.”
How to do baby sign language Baby sign language makes uses of signs based on American Sign Language, said Agoncillo-Galang. You can find the sign for a lot of words at SigningSavvy.com. But she also shared that parents are free to make up their signs if they like.
For “very good” or “good job” for example, you can choose to do the thumbs-up gesture or the “a-ok” gesture -- whatever works for you and baby. “What is important is nagkakaintindihan kayo because eventually, the child will talk,” said Agoncillo-Galang.
Remember, when you sign to your child, you also have to emphasize the word you’re signing with your voice and facial expression. For example, when signing “thank you,” say the words clearly and smile as well. Use the sign whenever you use the word, so your child will catch on faster. (Example: “Thank you. Thank you for sharing with me, anak.”)
When your child does learn the sign for a word, like for “poop” (Example: “Did you poop? Nag-poop ka ba?”), but does it a little differently than how you would, don’t insist on your way, said Agoncillo-Galang. Follow how your child signs it.
According to BabyCenter, parents can start signing a few words to their babies at 6 months old. Be patient though as your baby may not be able to sign back until she’s around 8 or 9 months old when she’s developed enough hand control.
You start with the simple signs, and then you progress as your child grows, said Agoncillo-Galang. Signs you can introduce first include “food,” “all gone,” “drink,” “play,” “lolo” and “lola.” Next, you can go with signs that have to do with manners like “please,” “sorry,” and “thank you.”
If you have pets, the sign for “dog” and “cat” can be fun for children when accompanied by animal sounds, said Agoncillo-Galang. “When you see your child doing the sign for dog, alam mong hinahanap niya yung pet niyo.”