The Importance Of Being Consistent With Your Signing Efforts

The most common question I used to get asked was “Wont using baby sign delay my baby’s speech?

Baby sign has now become very common since I first started Australian Baby Hands over 5 years ago (which is now in over 20,000 homes around Australia) and many people are aware of the research and studies that show baby sign actually helps to promote language development, not inhibit it.

Also many more people these days have a personal experience of baby sign and have seen the benefits.  The number of people these days who I meet who tell me about their friend, neighbor or relative who used baby sign with their baby and how they saw the benefits of communication that they received with that child baby sign has become much more mainstream.

Nowadays the most common question I get asked is “When will my baby sign back?

This is definitely much harder question to answer since all children are different and will develop at their own rate.  There are some common developmental milestones for baby’s that can be used as a guideline for when they are physically able to sign.  However being physically able to sign and wanting to sign are two different things.

Last month we looked at 3 ways to introduce signing but this month I want to explain the importance of consistency and making sure you pick a sign that your baby is interested in.

I really thought about this because this weekend we had some friends of ours come over with their young son Max.

We hadn’t seen Max since he was around 4 months old and he is now 18 months so his parents were very proud to tell us how much of a great little signer he was and to show off his signing skills to us.

As we sat having morning tea Max used his signs consistently to ask for his toys, more to eat, his mum as well as signing a whole repertoire of words from his favourite books.

As he was signing from his book his Father told me how they had nearly given up on the signing as they had signed to Max from 5 months until 11 months of age and not seen any result until one day they realised how much Max liked books.

As soon as they started using the sign for book every time they read to Max he very quickly picked up the sign book and started to use it all the time when he wanted a book,  This quickly transferred to Max realising that when he signed for a book, he got a book and he very quickly picked up other signs.

Their personal experience of seeing the difference in Max’s temperament in comparison to other children that regularly tantrum as they cannot explain what they need made my friends extremely glad that they had been consistent and not given up on the signing.

Also finding that balance between motivational and practical signs for Max was critical to him succeeding in using sign once he realised that sign could be used to get things he was interested in, not just what his parents wanted.

So, back to the question of when will a baby sign?

The physical ability to sign begins at around 5 – 6 months, once they can hold a toy or rattle or wave their hands around with some control.

The most important thing is to be consistent and find signs for something that your baby is interested in, not just you.  Signing must be fun for them or they are just not as likely to take the signing on board as quickly so by using signs that they are interested in you are likely to see results much sooner.

The more consistency that you can keep to with your baby the better as well.

Start of with just a few signs so that you are not overwhelmed with having to try and remember to many signs to begin with.  That way you are much more likely to remember to use them consistently.  As these key signs become second nature you can start to introduce more.

If your baby is looked after by other people in childcare or relatives then try to get them to use the signs as well.  The more exposure that that your baby has to these signs the better.

Also do check if your baby is in childcare and they are already using baby sign that they are using Auslan and not American Baby Sign.  Most people are now aware that Auslan is the same sign language as the deaf community in Australia and the same sign language that all Australian Baby Hands products are accredited to but there are still some American baby sign products being sold within Australia.

Remember, every baby has the ability to sign.  It is just a matter of time if you keep with it and follow these simple steps.

Happy Signing


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2 Responses to “The Importance Of Being Consistent With Your Signing Efforts”

  1. Deb Says:

    Hi Jackie,
    I’ve just received your book in the mail today. My daughter is almost 10 months and I have been signing milk, mum, dad, finished, drink, eat and a made-up sign for potty (patting tummy) for the last few months. Saskia hasn’t started signing back yet, but to be honest I probably haven’t been as consistent as I could have been!
    One thing that slowed me down in starting to use signs with her was deciding which system to use (my sister-in-law has used american signs so I thought maybe I should do the same to keep it consistent within the family, easier for grandma etc) and although i ended up deciding to go with auslan i was put off by it using two-handed signs for milk and breastfeed, which meant I couldn’t sign while holding Saskia. So I waited till she could sit unsupported (about 7mo) then started using the sign for milk. Now I see in the book that there is a one-handed sign for breastfeed that I hadn’t come across before, and I’m wondering whether it would confuse her too much if I started using that instead (changing from saying ‘milk’ to ‘breastfeed’ as well), partly so that later when she’s drinking cows’ milk she can differentiate but also for the ease of a one-handed sign.
    Also, in the picture for that sign you are using your right hand and the arrow goes from your left breast to your right (so, right to left for the person looking at the picture), but the description says to go from your right breast to your left. Which is correct?
    And a related question – do you always have to use the same hand, e.g. for signs like ‘mum’, ‘finished’, ‘eat’, ‘drink’?
    Hope you can help!

  2. JackieDurnin Says:

    Hi Deb

    Thanks for your comments.
    Firstly well done for starting, I can understand for the sake of ease within your family you may have thought it was easier to go with ASL but using Auslan is a great way for us to help and support the language of the Deaf Community of Australia.

    I have covered a lot of what you asked here in a couple of my previous articles;

    - Auslan or ASL, Whats the best Baby Sign Language?
    In this article I have gone through the pros and cons of each and how you can work to adapt some signs, like milk, as you mentioned above as while trying to stick to Auslan sometimes it is not possible to have two hands free, especially with a small child on the go :)

    - Substituting Words In Baby Sign Language
    In this article I talked about ways you can swap your words that you may use with your baby for certain things with the correct English word.

    Remember, Baby Sign is about having fun! Don’t over stress or over analyse to much, if your finding it hard work your baby will pick up on that and make it less enjoyable for them. Baby Hands products all use the correct Auslan signing system and I would encourage all parents to try and stick to the signs as best they can but if you feel the need to adapt slightly in some circumstances to make it easier for you then you should not worry to much.

    When using your hands there are people who sign right handed, people who sign left handed and people who will sign with either hand.

    Thanks for the feedback on the image in the book, you spotted our “deliberate” mistake. I’ll get that fixed on the next print run :-)

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