Saturday, July 21, 2012

Everyone Benefits from Signing with Babies!

Before I retired from UC Davis, I was lucky enough to have a graduate student who fell in love with the research Dr. Susan Goodwyn and I had been doing for so long on the effects of signing with hearing babies. Her name is Dr. Claire Vallotton, and she is now an Assistant Professor at Michigan State University continuing her (and our) research on the topic.

I just heard from Claire the good news that one of her studies has just appeared in the professional journal, Early Childhood Research Quarterly (2012, Volume 27, pps. 401-415). The results are exciting and worth sharing here because they extend the benefits of signing beyond just middle-class families to low-income families enrolled in an Early Head Start Program in Northern California.

Why is this important? We all know that parents who have the luxury of higher education, access to parenting books and mommy-and-me classes, and progressive child care programs are eager to pursue anything that holds the promise of benefitting their kids. And this certainly includes the Baby Signs® Program. What’s more, they usually have the time and energy to follow-though on the information they receive. As a result, middle-class babies all over the world are enjoying the many benefits that signing has been proven to bring.

But what about parents who are less likely to be aware of signing and it’s benefits and less likely to have the time and energy to implement the program. Unfortunately, many low-income families fall into this category.

What Claire has done is demonstrate--with an experimental study comparing EHS families whose Home Visitors encouraged them to sign with families whose Home Visitors did not—that Early Head Start parents can be effective teachers and that both parents and children do benefit from the experience. Her specific goal, unlike the emphasis in our own research on verbal language development, was to see how signing would affect the intricacies of parent-child interactions.

So what did she find? She found that moms in the signing group were more attuned to changes in their children’s emotions and more responsive to their distress cues. In addition, the signing moms also viewed their children more positively, a benefit that reduced perceived stress. All these positive changes are important because they are critical components of a healthy “attachment” relationship—which, in turn, is a predictor of positive emotional development long term.

I can’t say that we’re surprised by these findings. In fact, we would have been surprised if she hadn’t found them. But we are definitely pleased to have them in print for the world, including policy makers, to see!

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program
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