I’ve recently had a couple of questions about babysigning (because guess who is finally expanding his vocabulary!) and thought I’d put together a quick, stress-free guide to babysigning for laid-back mamas. In case you’re wondering when to start, I began the day baby boy was born but only got my first real response around the 1-year mark, so go figure. Books will often tell you to “ideally start before X months”, which I reckon is super unhelpful if your baby is X months plus 1. I’d say start as soon as you can but it’s never to late to give it a try. I imagine you could even start signing with a verbally-reluctant toddler – if he doesn’t enjoy it, I’m sure he’ll let you know pretty soon! The only good reason to do babysigning is because you think it’s fun. I’m a bit of a linguistics geek and have always been fascinated by sign languages. Aeons ago I even bought myself an ASL dictionary but, with no-one to talk to, I never got past “helicopter” and “turtle” (If you’re wondering why, check out the signs, they are so cool!) So of course I was immediately in love with the idea of signing with my baby and couldn’t wait to start learning the signs I would teach him. If you find signing boring, tedious or stressful don’t do it. There are a lot of other fun things you can do with your kids. Plus….
Babysigning won’t make you a better parent. Dividing parents into “good”, “better” and “bad” is unhelpful at the very least, however, a lot of new parenting ideas are sold on the premise that they will make you so much more connected to your baby, that tricky situations will suddenly be easier and everyone will congratulate you on how brilliantly you’re doing. Although I agree that babysigning can be helpful when dealing with a frustrated toddler, the reverse isn’t true: you can have an amazing, responsive, communicative relationship with your children without ever having heard of babysigning. Also, thinking that babysigning can make you a better parent will make you stressed when it doesn’t work, so cut it out right there: babysigning is a tool, it’s fun but that’s that. There are no medals.
Start with signs that are useful to you and your baby. I did quite a bit of reading on babysigning and lots of books would mention the heart-melting moment when their baby first signed “I love you”. Call me cold-hearted but I have to say that combination of signs is right at the bottom of my list, behind rubbish truck and railway crossing. I’d much rather teach my boy something that actually communicates something relevant, like “I’m cold”. I know my baby loves me. He can’t help it, it’s practically wired into his brain. What I don’t know is whether he needs another jumper or is just hungry for a piece of bread. I also found my son was completely uninterested in signs that didn’t have some practical application for him. Makes sense really, right?
Don’t get sucked in by classes, videos and flashcards (unless you love them). I find with parenting it’s very easy to get completely sucked into an idea. I start reading a blog post on babysigning, then buy a book and suddenly I’m looking into daily babysigning classes and where to print out a stack of flash cards, because unless I start signing into my pregnant tummy RIGHT NOW, baby boy is going to end up a door-to-door salesman and aaaaaaaaah!
Has anyone else ever done that, or is it just me?
The only way I can switch off the inner crazy mum is by reminding myself that this needs to be fun for everyone or it won’t get done at all. I’m personally not a baby class, signing video, flash-card mum and so baby boy and I just muddle through with a lot of enthusiasm, giggles and Google. Find you’re own happy medium and try not to worry when the mum at the playground tells you her 1-year old has already watched all 15 babysigning DVDs and didn’t you know learning ASL accurately is so important to make it “culturally relevant” and how her kid is one of only 5% of the hearing population who speaks ASL… (in case you’re wondering, no I never saw that kid sign a single word the whole time we were at the playground!)
Start with 5 signs that make sense for you and your baby. Remember that these can be adaptable. If your baby shows absolutely no interest in signing “Daddy” but points ecstatically at the neighbour’s cat, see if you can make a swap without hurting your husband’s feelings too much. My starter list was: mummy, daddy, bath, milk, potty, more. Baby boy has never really signed the first three but I recently added pee, poo, help and plane. You can look for signs by googling “word in ASL” (or BSL if you’re so inclined) and I also like this babysigning dictionary.
That’s basically it! If you have difficulties remembering 5 signs, start with one. It’s much better to do 1 sign consistently than 20 signs at random. Don’t worry about creating a special “signing time” in your routine just use the sign whenever you say the word.
And, most importantly, remember to have fun!