Why Clear Handshapes, Eye Contact, and Facial Expressions are Important When Signing With Your Baby

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    How to Make a Sign

    People unfamiliar with baby sign language will worry about making the signs correctly. The signs that most babies use are simple to make, and remembering the three parts to each sign will help you learn and remember how to make signs.

    Each sign has three parts; a handshape, a location, and a movement. As you learn each sign, know these three parts to each sign. However, the actual sign is not the most important part of communicating with your baby.

    More Important Than Signs

    Dr. Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, conducted several studies on nonverbal communication. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through certain vocal elements, and 55% through nonverbal elements (facial expressions, gestures, posture, etc.). This means that as humans we rely heavily (at least 55%) on facial expression, body posture, movement, and eye contact to convey and receive meaning. you sign with your baby, exaggerate your facial expressions and body language as much as possible, and don’t be shy!

    Using Facial Expessions and Vocal Tones

    Being animated will delight your child and aid them in understanding what you are trying to communicate. For example, when you make the SCARED sign, make your whole body tremble and look frightened. Or when you make the sign for HAPPY, let your expression tell the story along with the sign.

    Using expressive vocal tones for emphasis when you are articulating the words will also help your baby understand and learn the meaning of language. There is a visual “line of sight” between you and your child. Look into their eyes as you are signing, and when appropriate, keep the sign close to your face. This will greatly improve your chances of success. A good time to introduce a sign is when their gaze meets yours.

    Best Times to Show Signs

     During my research, I identified several best times to introduce signs to babies. I named these times after the type of gazes that occur between you and your baby.

    The three gazes you will experience that seem to be best times to introduce signs are the pointed gaze, chance mutual gaze, and the expressive gaze.

    The pointed gaze is when you both look at something like a dog that just barked and that sound and motion drew your attention, and then you look back at each other. You and your baby’s gazes were pointed at the same object and then you connected back. At that moment is a great opportunity to show the sign for what caused the focused attention.

    The chance mutual gaze is the time when you and your baby’s eyes happen to meet and there is no particular reason or specific activity like a bath or meal happening.

    The expressive gaze is when you know that your baby is trying to express something like if you know that they are thirsty or hungry and they look to you for a drink or food.

    Once my baby was startled by a sudden loud noise and he looked up at me. I modeled the sign for “loud noise” and then I signed “scared me.” By representing the feelings and reactions to the event with those signs and expressions, I helped my baby understand that there was a way to express the feeling that was felt when the sudden noise happened and the resulting feeling from that sudden noise.

    Because I would use these kinds of signs at every opportunity that caused a startling reaction, it didn’t take long for my child to learn the “SCARED” sign and then used it if and when he felt scared of something.

     Model Don’t Teach

    Notice that I used the word MODEL when I refer to showing signs to babies. I never use the word TEACH.

    I strongly suggest that we do not try to “teach” babies anything. The best, most enduring and sensitive way for babies to learn is by observation and seeing examples in everyday life.

    Babies quickly pickup on patterns and structure. By being consistent with modeling signs at the appropriate times allows your child to associate the sign to the action, object, or feeling to which you are referring.

    Your spoken word or words (if you are speaking several languages) can accompany the signs. Your child will learn the sounds that the words make along with the motions that come with the signs for the meaning you intend if you provide the regular and steady use of the signs and spoken language.

    The amazing thing is that through signs, many languages can be acquired and made clear by using the signs and the common link among all the spoken languages.

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