My little one is 16 months old and babbles constantly with a range of tones and emphasis. She is trying so hard to communicate with me and my husband, and we love it, even if we can’t understand what she’s saying. We answer her and ask her questions, talk to her when she pauses and allow her time to respond to us in her own baby language. It almost seems as if we’re all communicating in perfect sync.
For years I was a Behavioral Interventionist (B.I.) working with children who have autism and I would sometimes work alongside their families, caregivers and teachers. Because most young children with autism have speech delays I was trained to teach basic sign language and language development. These were just some of the valuable tools I received while working as a B.I. that would offer me life long skills, particularly when it came time to parent.
I began signing with my daughter when she was as little as six months old, because she was becoming more aware of her surroundings and we were starting solid foods, which seemed like the perfect time to introduce “more” and “all done”. In the beginning I would simply model the signs along with the verbal command so she could pair the two. It wasn’t until her motor skills were becoming more perfected that I would do hand over hand on her so she could do the signs as well with my assistance, then offer her a chance to do it on her own. If she refused to do a sign and threw her food off the high hair instead of signing “all done”, I would do my best to pay little attention to the throwing of food (hoping that with no attention given, that she would be less likely to keep doing it) then help her do the sign for “all done” as I say it, remove the food, item, or activity that she is done with so that she begins to understand what it means. There are many resources online to help aide in teaching baby sign language, mine is only an example that worked for us.
These days she does both signs all on her own like a pro! Lately, we’ve been working on “help”, “water” and “milk”, again helping her do the signs and verbalizing as well. Because she understands so much of what my husband and I say we have also been modeling head nods and shakes for yes and no. We also ask her to follow through with one-step commands to see how much she knows. We’re constantly surprised when the tasks become more complex. One day it’s “come here” or “give me”, then the next it’s “put your cup down on the table” and she’s doing it!
We also don’t do the baby talk. We label things clearly so that when she does begin to talk she will know how to say things properly. Our tone also helps express right and wrong. We keep higher tones for praise and deeper tones to reprimand, but don’t increase volume. I’m an extremely animated person so I also involve a lot of facial expressions and body language when I talk and I can see she’s beginning to pick up on it. Watching her learn language is a beautiful journey as much as it can seem frustrating at times. One day she starts to copy a word and the next she refuses to ever say that word again. Talk to me, baby!