A decade ago, if you'd seen a baby using sign language with her parents, you probably would've assumed the baby was deaf. Not so these days.
The number of parents enjoying the benefits of signing with their hearing baby or toddler has mushroomed in the past 10 years. But why use sign language to communicate with a child who can hear - and is learning to speak anyway?
Speech is not an easy thing to master, and a baby's passive vocabulary (the words he can understand) is often far more developed than his active vocabulary (the words he can use). Long before he utters his first word, a baby has specific needs and wishes to communicate. Studies have shown that it is easier for babies to reproduce gestures than it is for them to reproduce words. In fact, babies naturally employ symbolic gestures to get their meaning across. By introducing sign language, gestures become an effective form of communication. The signing baby is empowered.
The potential benefits of this are huge. Not only do babies and parents experience the joy of communicating early (babies as young as 3 months have been known to sign "milk"), but toddlers experience reduced frustration when they can express themselves. Toddlers who know several single words may wish to communicate something beyond their verbal capacity - and signing allows this.
When parents can respond to their toddler's specific request (even if it is to refuse it), the child is less likely to throw a tantrum. Proponents of baby signing go so far as to credit the practice with eliminating the Terrible Twos. So who do we have to thank for this revelation?