Imagine, for a moment, that you are in a foreign country, somewhere hot. You're gasping for a drink and approach a local bartender. You ask him for some water, taking care to enunciate each word, and speaking really slowly, as if that will make a difference. The bartender shrugs and shakes his head. Frustrated, you talk a bit louder, and the bartender disappears for a few minutes. You think everything's sorted. After a short while, he comes back with a plate of salad and a bag of crisps.
You freak out, throw a massive paddy, cry a bit and spend the rest of the day in a huge sulk. The bartender is moody with you because he doesn't know what you want, and you're grouchy with him because you're dying of thirst. This, my friend, is how a baby feels.
Babies are more intelligent than you think, which is why you have just cause to be slightly anxious when they stare at you for ages. Their main problem in life, other than having to sit in a soggy nappy for ages, is the fact that – in developmental terms - their mouth is lagging behind their brain. Therefore, they want to tell you something, but just can't get the words out, instead emitting tiny 'coos' that make mums go all melty and high-pitched.
That's where baby signing comes in. This concept of gesticulating to convey a message was picked up as an idea for baby communication in the early 1980s, and has boomed in popularity since then. Anyone who's seen the movie Meet the Fockers will be familiar with baby signing, thanks to that rather cute little kid who gets all excited when he sees boobs.
But is baby signing a credible method of communication with your child, or a craze that will die out in time, like Tamagotchis or the Backstreet Boys? Well, it seems, from the enthusiastic exclamations of delighted parents around the world, that baby signing is here to stay.
Rachael Ince, a wedding photographer, got in touch with her local baby signing class when a health visitor remarked that her nine-month-old son could suffer from delayed speech as he was not yet babbling. Within a few weeks he was signing, which greatly improved communication with his parents. "It was just the simple fact that he was able to communicate," remarks Rachael, "as he didn't say much at all before the age of 2."
Gemma, mum to five-month-old Blake, has been dabbling in a little signing for the past few weeks. "I'm hoping it will alleviate some of the tantrums if he can tell me what he wants," she says, and it looks as if her hard work is paying off. "Blake has just signed 'milk' for the first time!" she says. "I'm so proud!"
Improving communication between parent and child can only ever be a good thing. Reduced tantrums means reduced blood pressure and reduced stress, leading to a happier family life and a head of hair that isn't missing huge clumps.
And, if there are no baby signing classes nearby, starting your own is a relatively straightforward process. After some home study, a few weeks of attendance and a training day, Rachael began to teach her own baby signing class.
As with anything baby-related, to reap the rewards you have to be dedicated, and follow through. Signing should be carried on by the parent outside the classroom walls, and as much as possible. While your child may not pick it up straight away - it took about six weeks for Rachael's son, Felix, to sign for the first time – the benefits of having a baby you can communicate with is worth the patience required.
Baby signing is not without its critics. The main argument levelled against baby signing is that it takes longer for the infant to talk, as he is quite content simply signing for what he wants. This is, quite simply, a misconception. If anything, research has shown that babies who learn to sign are more creative than their non-signing counterparts, and develop a larger spoken vocabulary.
So there you have it. Baby signing is, it seems, an excellent way to boost communication between parent and child, and with it that all-important bond. But take note: your baby is watching you sign as closely as you are watching him sign. So next time someone cuts you up on the motorway, avoid waving a V-sign out of the window. You could find that your child starts flipping the bird at strangers.
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