Communicating With Your Baby

Some researchers suggest that the reason young toddlers act out is because they're frustrated at their inability to communicate. Some parents are trying to fill in the communication gap with something called "baby signs," CBS This Morning Senior Correspondent Hattie Kauffman reports.

The method uses hand signals that young babies can understand, mimic, and then use on their own to let their parents know what they want. Simple gestures indicate that the child wants "food" or "more" or wants to go "outside."

At the University of California, researchers run an unusual day-care center that works as a kind of laboratory for "baby signs."

Every caregiver in the room uses hand signals while they talk to babies who are between one to two years old.

"It's much easier to deal with the frustrations that toddlers feel when they can't say what they need, when they're trying to express what they need to parents, both in terms of simply asking for something, telling us they are hungry, or they want some juice or they want their diaper changed," says Kathleen Gray, director of the Center for Child and Family Study.

It's not the sign language of the deaf. The lab uses signs suggested in the book, Baby Signs: How to Talk With Your Baby Before Your Baby Can Talk, but its authors say parents can make up their own.

Parents can "pick out things that their baby is interested in and pick some kind of gesture that makes sense to them and to the baby," says co-author Linda Acredolo.

Thirteen-month-old Michaelin has been signing since she was seven months old, not only at day care, but at home.

"She'll tell us exactly what she is thinking. And that's what's exciting about it is that I feel like I know what she's thinking, and that she can communicate that to me," says mother Lynn Arner-Cross.

Michaelin already knows 35 gestures and her five-year-old brother is always teaching her new ones.

Signing isn't just about communication. Studies by the National Institutes of Health have found that babies who sign actually learn to speak sooner than babies who didn't.

"The news was good all the way down the line," says Acredolo. "From 11 months to 4 years, their language development of the baby signers was actually better and faster than the control group."

Studies also show that babies who start signing will increase their I.Q. by fifteen points by the time they're in the second grade.

"...Another thing that parents tell us is that it just provides such an amazing window into their baby's mind, so that they can know what their babies are thinking about, what they are interested in, what they are paying attention to," says Baby Signs co-author Susan Goodwyn.

"I think he lowers his level of frustration with things because he can actually tell us, 'I want to go outside, I want to get a bottle, I want to drink some juice.' And it's really helped. It helps a lot," saymother Gabriella Avila.

But watch what you say - these babies can even keep up with an adult conversation! Not only do the babies learn simple words such as "juice" or "nap," but they also learn concepts such as "more" or "wait" or "later."

There is no exact age when children are ready for baby signs, but experts say that if your child is ready to wave "bye bye," he or she is ready to learn other signs as well.

Reported By Hattie Kauffman
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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