Long before babies can talk, they are able to use their hands to communicate. Your little one likely waves “bye-bye” and reaches out her arms for you to hold her, which is a form of sign language. Signing is an excellent way to boost a baby’s ability to communicate even more at an early age, according to Nicola Lathey, London-based speech and language pathologist. Beyond communication, sign language can also improve the parent-child bond and enhance your child’s critical thinking skills.
Gross motor skills develop for babies long before fine motor skills, says Deborah Gilboa, Pittsburgh-based family physician and author of “Get the Behavior You Want Without Being the Parent You Hate.” Basically, this means that babies can make signs with their hands long before they can make words with their vocal chords, she says. “When we give our younger babies the ability to express their needs and desires, we relieve them of lots of frustration and lessen their crying,” says Gilboa.
Meets Needs Faster
Often times, when babies are crying, parents are unsure of how to meet their needs. Sign language gives you the ability to distinguish why your baby is fussy, says Gilboa. Start with words such as “more,” “finished,” “hungry,” and “pain,” and you will improve your child’s ability to get his needs met without as much crying, she says. “Sign language improves the potential frustrating moments for both the parent and the baby,” says Gilboa.
Improves Thinking Skills
Sign language is an excellent way to start to build a foundation of critical cognitive skills and develop the basic thinking process, says John Kennedy, Illinois-based neuroplastician. “Sign language allows baby to break it down, think it through and execute,” he says. The child learns to recognize shapes through signing, analyze what he or she means and synthesizes the information to something meaningful once learned.
The engagement between a parent and child while signing is an emotional and meaningful experience, says Kennedy. “The process boosts the child’s self-esteem which is critical to developing emotional resilience,” he says. As the parent teaches the baby sign language, the quality time is also an important component of the bonding process and serves as a personal introduction to communication. Babies form the foundation for future learning and sign language makes the transition to verbal communication faster and easier, according to Kennedy.
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