Most of the playgroup babies use sign language, and even the seven-month-old fist pumps when she wants to nurse. Your daughter… not so much. She’s got a sign or two down, but try as you might, she’s just not into learning more. And every one of her meltdowns gets you down because you can’t understand what she wants. The looks from other playground parents sure don’t help either.
It’s not a competition.
I spent many a snack-time/story-time/diaper-time trying to teach our firstborn to sign. He knew the signs for ‘milk’, ‘eat’, and ‘more’, but wasn’t interested in anything non food-related. You can probably guess which of our three is the best eater. When our second was baby-signing age, I didn’t bother. I had a lot on my plate and between our regular routine and his body-language self-expression, there didn’t seem like much need. He rubbed his eyes… sleep please! Hid his face and giggled… peekaboo. Crawled to the door and started knocking… time to head outside. Was getting cranky and hadn’t eaten for a while… ya know it.
But when our third got in the habit of waving bye-bye, and was so proudly delighted by our reaction, it made me pause and reconsider. I began to pay attention when she was trying to communicate with her hands: wiping her mouth when I reached for my lip balm, giving a thumbs-in (her version of a thumbs-up) to her brothers every time she saw us do it, and sweetly tickling herself when she wanted to be tickled. The more I noticed and responded, the more she tried to express herself. While I got busy teaching her how to ask for milk and blow kisses, she got busy creating her own signs for music, airplanes, and the swing. When we repeated her signs to us, that sealed the deal. They may not be ASL, but they work. She also got more verbal at about the same age, so now she happily combines gestures with words to let us know what’s on her mind.
If you really want to teach your babe sign language, asking an older sib/cuz/friendly kid in your hood to help out will get the message across much faster than you ever could. There’s about a zillion books on the market, and most of them are available at the library. Our oldest liked the ones with pictures of real kids the best, but jury’s still out on if it actually helped him learn to sign. You can check out WeeHands, and if you want, you can even register in a class. You’ll probably meet other nice, local, like-minded parents, which is great for support and future playdates. If she picks up on it – awesome. If she’s not that into signing – no big deal. Much like sitting, crawling, walking, and, um, just about everything they learn at this age, you don’t need to stress. While the signing phase is super-cute, it’s also super-short. Before long they’ll be talking up a storm and the days when you couldn’t understand them will be a distant (and very peaceful) memory.
If you’re concerned about her inability to express herself using sign language, chances are you’re already super attentive to her needs and it’s not really necessary. Language is one more thing for them to learn, and there’s only so much they can handle without feeling overwhelmed. You never know what goes on behind closed doors, and those fluently signing babies might be struggling to crawl, sleep, eat, or master any other life skill. Taking it easy instead of turning it into yet another teaching moment is a smart play, especially if you’re turning into a Tiger Mom before your tot’s even toddling.