Baby signing can benefit any family with a baby or toddler. By encouraging early communication, signing can help your little ones feel confident in their ability to communicate; further encouraging language development and reducing frustration.
Over a series of three posts, we’ll look at how baby signing can help you get the most from your communication with your baby from her first weeks right through to becoming a walking, talking pre-schooler and beyond!!
In this post we’ll consider your baby’s earliest months of life and what communication might look like with a 0-6 month old.
0-6 months – Building the framework for good communication.
Take yourself back to a moment when you were face-to-face with a young baby. Perhaps you are remembering the first time you met your own little bundle of joy. Maybe you the are thinking of that little baby peering over her mum’s shoulder from the bus seat in front of yours or that tiny face you can picture is your niece gazing up at you from the pram on your walk round the park. Now bring your attention to your own face. What did it do? What is it doing now as you relive that encounter? Chances are, even without thinking about it, your face opened up, your eyes widened and you smiled. Your voice will likely have softened if you spoke and perhaps you said “Hello there!” in a sing-song tone, repeating yourself once or twice.
Much of what we as parents do to help our young babies make sense of their world is instinctive; our tone of voice, our facial expression, eye contact, the way in which we repeat our words and actions. The amazing thing is that it’s not just adults programmed to respond in this way, babies themselves are born hard-wired to seek this connection and communication with their care-givers and the rest of the world. Even in the first moments of life a newborn seeks out the face of his parents and will focus his gaze on mum or dad. If mum or dad poke out their tongue or make an “O” shape with their mouth, amazingly an hours-old baby will mirror this unusual facial expression. Your baby is incredibly attuned to you and will be using lots of non-verbal cues to help him make sense of a situation and to connect and communicate with the adults around him.
I’ve heard about baby signing… How can I use this in the early months?
Perhaps surprisingly for a passionate advocate of baby signing, my advice for the first 6 or 7 months of your baby’s life would be this:
Don’t get too bogged down with worrying about learning lots of signs at the moment. Your baby is already a participant in your communication; simply enjoy connecting with your little one as much as you can. Go with your instinct and notice and commend yourself for all the simple things you do each day which are priming your baby’s brain for language. Now is a good time to begin to use a few basic signs with your baby but at the moment it is perhaps less for your baby’s benefit than your own – use these early months to get into the habit of using a few signs and allow them to become a natural part of your communication so you can expand your signing vocabulary effortlessly as the months go on.
SING and Sign
Even if you feel your singing voice is not that great, enjoying songs and rhymes with your child brings a connection between you, a positive interaction, a joyful moment. In your baby’s rapidly growing brain there are pathways being laid, synapses being built. Over time your interactions with your baby shape your baby’s perception of the world. Or to put it another way – a baby’s brain grows based on his or her Story experiences.
Renowned research scientist and author of “Connected Baby” Dr Suzanne Zeedyk says;
“When a baby has repeated experiences of being comforted in the face of anxiety, then she develops the capacity to keep herself calm. But learning what comfort is like can only be done with the help of another person, because human brains are so immature at birth.”
Singing with babies helps them learn how the world FEELS. Singing, enjoying, connecting with your baby will help your child grow into teens and adults who can regulate their emotions and will help them move through the world from a place of love.”
As a Sing & Sign teacher, I love ending my working day with a “Babes” class for babies under 7 months. It’s a lovely gentle class to teach after a more rambunctious group of Stage 1 crawlers or Stage 2 toddlers and I get to coo over tiny babies! While I introduce parents to a few basic signs and lots of nursery rhymes to use at home the main focus is very much on the parent-baby connection and the little everyday things parents do to help prime their baby’s brain for language.
Here are 5 useful tips we consider during our “Babes” classes. These are universal for any family with a young baby whether you plan to use baby signing or not. Give yourself a pat on the back during the monotony of nappy changes and milk feeds as you recognise that the simple things you do during day-to-day life with your young baby are actually building the framework for good communication:
- Recognise the value of fun, loving interactions. Those raspberries you blow on your child’s tummy after her bath are LITERALLY shaping her brain and her giggles are her way of getting you to do it again and again to make those neural pathways even stronger! Even something as simple as warm eye contact during a nappy change will help your baby feel safe, important and connected to you.
- Comment on what your baby is doing and allow them to initiate a ‘conversation’ with you. By connecting with your baby in this way and describing what he is doing, you are responding to him and helping him feel valued and important. And listen to the language you are giving him: “Wow look at those legs! You are really kicking those legs there, kick, kick, kick!” He hears the name for the body part he is moving and the name for the movement he is making; all valuable language for that little brain to soak up.
- Encourage attentiveness by sharing games and rhymes which build anticipation. Think along the lines of peek-a-boo, “Two little dickie birds” or “Round and Round the Garden”. With lots of repetition, your baby will start to anticipate the “one step, two step, tickle you under there!” or the dickie birds re-appearing. This anticipation holds their attention and encourages eye contact. Use your voice and face to help build the anticipation and try experimenting with leaving a longer gap to see how your baby will respond!
- Long before your baby can coordinate her movements enough to point or gesticulate, she will use her gaze to direct your attention. Referred to as ‘shared looking’ or ‘gaze tracking’ this is a wonderful way to attune and connect with your little one. Allow her to show you what has caught her attention or use your gaze to show her things too “Look at this lovely yellow duck – do you see the duck? Quack, Quack!”
- Use non-verbal cues to enrich your communications with your child. Facial expressions, shared looking, tone of voice and gestures. Now is a great time to introduce a few simple baby signs should you wish! Perhaps try “Milk”, “ More” (for tickles and fun) and “Nappy change”…. Things you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practise!
Catherine Rennie runs Sing & Sign classes in Edinburgh and is mum to two boys, both baby signing graduates and enthusiasts!