MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Having a baby can bring a lot of anxiety to any new parent — money worries, sleeplessness nights, the crying. But what if you could communicate with babies before they can talk?
Baby sign language has become increasingly popular over the last decade. It used to be taught only if a child was deaf or hard of hearing. But not anymore.
It’s snack time in the Mitras’ house. Baby Reyna uses basic sign language to tell her parents what she wants. She can hear just fine.
“A baby will start crying to let you know that they want something. Signing is just a way for them to be more specific about what it is that they want,” Reyna’s father Raj Mitra said.
In fact the 15-month-old didn’t fuss or cry throughout our entire interview. She would sign — more food, more water please. She even used the sign for light, a new one she learned, as we set up equipment.
“We’re teaching her banana. We’re teaching her more specific foods now,” Reyna’s mom said.
Baby sign language for hearing children isn’t new. It was studied in the 1800s by a Yale professor, but it didn’t really take off until the 2000s.
“At the time, signing time was just coming out,” St. Croix Central Elementary teacher Leah Feyereisen said.
Feyereisen was desperate for a way to calm her newborn triplets back in 2007. She taught them baby sign language and says people were amazed how calm her three boys were.
“We really didn’t have the terrible twos. I mean, obviously you have some crying here and there about other things, but it was never for frustration or lack of them being able to tell me what they understood,” Feyereisen said.
Today on top of your birthing class, nursing class, CPR training, you can find a plethora of baby sign language courses.
Reyna’s parents learned at the Amma Parenting Center in Edina.
“You are helping to build brain cells in the language center,” Small Talk Sign Language teacher Susan Hagel said.
Hagel has been teaching parents baby sign language basics for almost 20 years. She says babies develop signing motor skills earlier than speech.
But skeptics worry signing will inhibit the baby’s ability to talk. Hagel says a 20 year long study proved that’s not true.
“They found that babies exposed to — babies signing actually talk a little bit sooner and the first words that they say generally are signs that they know,” Hagel said.
And the benefits don’t stop there.
“They found that as a child went to school they would score an average of 12 points higher on IQ tests and 20 points higher on SATs. So anything that you can do for your child as an infant that’s going to make a difference as a teenager is a good thing,” Hagel said.
Reyna has already started talking — and her first word was still “mom.”
Only time will tell if she sees benefits at a later age.
“She has tried signing to the dog. She asks the dog,” Reyna’s mom said. “That’s pretty funny.”
“I do think that a lot of parents are very savvy about what things are going to help my child develop and what things are going to help my child grow and learn,” Hagel said. “And so a lot of times parents take baby signing because it’s going to be beneficial to their child.”
Susan says a tip to start implementing baby sign language is don’t try until they’re at least 6 months old. Start with just one or two signs until they get the hang of them and then add more.