Did you know that over half of baby and toddler ‘meltdowns’ can usually be put down to struggles with communication? After all, communication is one of the most important things your baby will develop in their first year of life and there’s good research to show that teaching your baby Makaton (baby sign language) can dramatically help. Teaching your baby to sign gives them the ability to communicate basic needs with you and can help them with forming words sooner too. Here is your complete guide to teaching your little one to communicate with you long before they can form words!
When to start?
It’s never too early! Some babies really benefit from starting as early as possible whereas most begin their sign journey from about 6 months old. Even if your little one is unlikely to be able to sign back to you for a good few months yet, they’ll be able to understand and grasp what you are trying to teach them with consistent use. Repetition is key!
What comes first?
When it comes to teaching your little one to sign, the best place to start is often with basic words. Many start with mum, dad, milk (opening a closing a clenched fist like you’re milking a cow) and hello (usually a wave) but whatever you choose the key is to tie each word with an action and repeat it whenever you say it. For example, if you’re feeding your little one in their highchair you can teach them the words of the food they’re nibbling on. Another popular couple are ‘more’ (pinch your thumbs and fingers together on both hands, creating two O shapes, then tapping your fingertips together a few times) and ‘finished’ or ‘all done’ (take both your hands open up with palms facing you. Flick your hands around so that you end with your palms facing out).
There are official baby hand signs that you can use but you can completely use whatever signs you like that suit your family as long as you’re consistent (more on that later).
Don’t forget your voice!
As you progress through your signs you might notice they pick things up a lot faster than you might expect if you consistently use the word, action, and tone of your voice each time. When you use your voice along with signing Makaton, you will be teaching your baby how to talk in order to communicate as well as using their hands.
Practice (and patience) makes perfect
Teaching baby sign is definitely a long game, but the effort really can pay off. It’s important to keep in mind that it will be tricky for your little one to get the hang of and so will need plenty of practice. Instead of carving out dedicating time to ‘practice’ try to incorporate baby sign into your everyday language and routine. Make use of every opportunity you get so it feels like a natural part of their day. If (and when) your little one makes a correct sign, lots of praise and a cuddle will help to reinforce what they’ve learnt. Put simply, when you positively interact with your child when teaching signs, they’re more likely to learn through imitation.
Last but not least…
Have fun with it! Your baby won’t pick it up overnight (and neither will you). It’s an activity you can repeat and enjoy together as you go about your routine.
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