You have made the decision to sign with your baby. Awesome! Good for you!
So you begin with just a few signs – you’ve decided on “milk” for nursing, “eat” for when your baby is having a solid food dinner and “dog” because he loves your family pet so much.
A few weeks pass and you don’t get discouraged because you know that sometimes it can take some time for your baby to make the connection between your movements and the activities and objects they represent. And soon, you realize that your child’s grasping motion starts to coincide with nursing.
But wait! You now see him doing this motion when the dog comes into the room as well as when faced with a jar of enticing pureed peas. So you ask yourself (and your husband and mother also ask) – is he really signing at all?
The answer is: Probably! When a child starts the signing process he will often do any number of common things – one of the most common is outlined above, when a child seems to be making the same sign for more than one thing or, in other cases, everything he sees.
What you do in this case is take heart because your child has indeed made that connection between signs and what they represent. He may not be accurate right off the bat but over time his aim and accuracy will indeed improve. Use context if you’re not sure what sign he is making and always model the correct sign and soon he will grow more precise (and correct!).
Another common scenario is one where you are established signers but you’re not entirely sure if the child is truly making the connection.
My daughter and I experienced just this very thing. I started signing “daddy” to her early on and she took on other signs before starting this one. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure if she just thought it was a fun thing to do because she wouldn’t always do it when Dad was around. It didn’t seem to be in context at all and I had my doubts that she knew what she was doing with this one (even though she signed “milk” and “cheerios” and other signs perfectly and properly).
He left for job training and was gone for three weeks and she did not sign “daddy” the entire time he was gone, and neither did I.
However, once he returned, Lauren gave him a big smile and signed “daddy” and said “dada” – her first word, and a sure “sign” that she indeed knew what she was signing about. I did not prompt her to sign; she did it entirely on her own.
It is so amazing what such a small child can process and remember and think about. Before, when I was doubting my little angel, she could have been thinking about her father even though he was not concretely there, or maybe she saw a man in the store who resembled him – who knows? Only Lauren does!