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By Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.H.C.

The decision to sign with your baby is a smart one. In fact, research has shown that signing with children from infancy to right through the time speech develops – and beyond- can contribute to improvements in IQ and language development in amazing ways. But is there a right and wrong way to get started? Here are five common pitfalls families face when signing with Baby.

1. Listening to the nay-sayers: I hear it all the time, “My mother-in-law says she’ll never speak if I sign!” or “My son’s daycare provider says signing delays language! I want him to talk!”

Are these dire warnings going to come true? In a word, no. There is no evidence we are aware of that says signing delays speech. There is plenty of evidence that suggests it enhances speech. The important thing to remember is that if a child is going to have a speech delay, he will have that delay no matter what, and you are offering him a powerful communication tool in the interim. For a child who will develop typically, you are still offering a rich and beneficial experience with signing.

2. The video trap: Okay, we think our videos are pretty great. We love that you love them. We love that your kiddos love them. And we think it’s really wonderful that you can pop one in and feel good that your child is getting smart high-quality media while you maybe get a few things done around the house. However, what we don’t want to see is kids zoned out in front of the screen – no matter how great the video. So, be sure to limit screen time, even ours.

And… be sure you’re learning along with your child. Nobody wants their kid to learn and use a language they themselves can’t understand!

3. Insisting on perfection: How cute is baby talk? “wa-wa” for “water”, or “thup” for “cup”. Those early attempts at language are rewarded, right? The same should go for signing. If your child isn’t doing a sign quite “right”, don’t sweat it. Much like early language, children will often come up with their own approximations for signs in the early days. Simply reinforce the proper sign by signing back and modeling the correct hand shape and move on. No need to manipulate your child’s hands, or insist on a properly executed sign before moving forward. Celebrate the attempt and know that the refinement will come later.

4. The drill and kill: Signing should be a natural and fun part of your day, not a quiz time. Infants are sponges – constantly taking in the world around them, making connections, and learning in amazing ways. But they do all of this naturally, and especially through an environment that is rich in language (spoken, read, and sung) and warm and natural. So, hold off on focused “teaching time” until your little one is a bit older with a sustained attention span. When your child is in infancy simply, sing, cuddle, talk, and naturally sign through your day.

5. She talked – so we stopped: Here’s another one I hear all the time, “Oh, yes! We signed with little Suzy, but then she started talking! So we stopped!” Actually, to be totally honest, I did this too… at first!

Having a pre-verbal infant who signs with you is such a gift. You get a glimpse into what goes on in her mind. Frustrations are reduced. Bonding happens. But then those first words start coming, and it can be pretty common to start letting sign language slide. Don’t!

Children who sign, even at the preschool level, reap incredible benefits in language and literacy acquisition. In addition, we strictly use signs from American Sign Language (ASL), which is a true second language for your child. While children may naturally drop some signs as words begin to come through, if you stay consistent, they’ll also stay consistent. It’s normal to see some up and down in the amount of signing that happens, but don’t drop it all together!

Once you’re done with Baby Signing Time, be sure to check out our products for older children to keep the learning going! Signing Time, Potty Time, and Rachel and the TreeSchoolers await your tot as he grows.

Happy Signing!