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I have never been big on reading parenting books, and I don’t follow any specific, named techniques in raising my child. I simply go with my gut concerning what is best for her.
There was one thing I read about rather extensively before her birth – the use of sign language with babies. There were many compelling potential benefits, and I began signing with my daughter when she was four months old.
I would use a sign while saying the word and modeling or encouraging her to engage in the activity associated with it. For example, I would sign “milk” while nursing her, “bath” while bathing her and “sleep” while placing her in her crib.
When it came to sleep, I was certain of two things from the beginning: in order to thrive our daughter would require the proper amount; and she would look to us to help her learn how to successfully and peacefully transition from a period of activity to a period of rest.
Our bedtime routine is simple, and has changed very little in the past four and a half years. I dubbed it “The Three Bs” in the beginning, for Bath, Books and Bed. When she was old enough we added Brushing, as in teeth and hair.
I incorporated the signs for our Bs right away. It reinforced the routine. Visual cues, along with repetition, helped her understand from a very young age what to expect and what was expected. I truly believe it helped us avoid many common sleep issues.
The benefits of signing went well beyond getting our child to bed. My daughter responded well to signing and I continued to add more signs as she grew. At around 10 months, she began to sign. Which gave her the ability to communicate well before she had language.
In fact, speaking would turn out to be a serious problem for our child. We had no way of knowing in the beginning how essential signing would become to us.
Shortly after her second birthday, our daughter was diagnosed with Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS), a motor planning disorder involving the muscles used for speech. Sign language ended up being her primary form of communication, and by the time she was three, she had a vocabulary of over 300 signs.
An inability to communicate on her part could have caused major issues. Through signing she was able to communicate her needs, feelings and questions. It helped us establish additional routines and expectations as she grew, confirm her comprehension and avoid common behavioral problems seen in children with her condition. You can read more about language development in toddlers at WhatToExpect.com.
Today, at close to five, my daughter is extremely verbal thanks to intensive speech therapy, which is ongoing. But while we no longer need it, sign language was an invaluable tool for our family. In more ways than I ever could have imagined.
Elizabeth Flora Ross is a freelance writer for WhatToExpect.com, living in Florida with her husband and daughter. You can find her on her personal blog, The Writer Revived. She is also the creator of The Mom Pledge, an anti-cyberbullying campaign aimed at moms.