Sunday, October 28, 2012

Troublesome “Tips”

A parent forwarded to me postings from a blog about signing with babies ( that has been popping up frequently in Google “Alerts.” I’m usually delighted to see increased dissemination of information about the topic; the more parents we can reach the better! In this case, however, the specific advice offered is in so many instances contrary to our own observations here at Baby Signs about what works—as well as contrary to good developmental practice—that I felt it would be important to point out our concerns by highlighting the post entitled “When Baby Signs Back: Factors that Affect.”

Question posed: Why are there individual differences in how long it takes for a baby to start signing back? (“…how long [before] their baby [will] sign back.”)

(1). “Those babies who have better IQ are more likely to learn different signs earlier in life. So, the general rule is the stronger the mental capabilities of your baby are, the earlier he will sign back to you.”

CONCERN: There is no data that supports such an assertion. Nor could there be given all the factors totally unrelated to mental ability that we know contribute: (a) Individual differences in the priority babies have for communicating are really important. For example, some babies would rather climb the bookshelves than read the books. (b) Age: The younger the baby is when you start modeling signs, the longer it will take. (c) How much signing the child sees.

(2). “The earlier you start teaching sign language, the earlier you get results. The recommended age to start teaching baby sign language is 4 months.”

CONCERN: If the question is, as the beginning of the post states, how long before a baby begins signing back, the answer is the younger the baby, the longer it will take. There’s certainly nothing wrong with starting early. However, the chance that a parent will get discouraged and quit is greater. That’s why we suggest between 9 and 12 months.

(3) “The more dedication you show, the more organized your teaching is, the more chances that your baby will learn baby sign language earlier in life.

CONCERN: Although this sounds like our point about the amount of signing a baby sees, the bit about organized teaching implies the importance of specific lesson times. In fact, in another posting, the author calls for “teaching sessions” where you try to “eliminate all the distractions around you” including “random noises and other persons” and rewarding the baby “with food and toys whenever he takes a successful step in the process of learning baby sign language.” In sharp contrast, our 30 years of observation and research indicate that simply incorporating signs into everyday routines and activities with your baby is the best way to go. Regimented lesson times in isolation from others, in fact, can be off-putting and counter-productive—and an excited reaction by Mom or Dad is usually reward enough! You’re not teaching a dog to roll over.

(4) “Whether it is a matter of lack of nutrition or encouragement, anything that hampers the mental development of your baby will also slow down the learning process.”

CONCERN: Of course, anything truly injurious to a child’s physical or psychological welfare will affect the child’s developmental timeline in a wide variety of domains. However, most parents who consult a blog like this already know that nutrition and encouragement are important. And the downside to the statement is the focus, once again, on “mental capabilities.”

This list covers just one of the postings. The others have problems, too--like the advice to “use flash cards to show the babies the proper ways to sign” as if babies could learn from a static image better than a real life demonstration!

After three full decades observing and conducting research on the topic of signing with babies, I feel so passionate about it that I think it’s important to set the record straight when parents are being led astray. The last thing we need is for the movement to get a bad reputation from an influx of really bad advice.

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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