In our family, we love baby signs!
This is something my family tried with my little sister when she was around 6-8 months old. We noticed that she picked up on it quickly, and signs became this exciting new way to communicate, before she ever [verbally] spoke a word.
After that experience, I was hooked on the idea of trying baby signs again in the future, this time with children of my own!
So, with both of my kids, we’ve implemented baby signs into regular communication, from a young age. I’ve loved seeing them thrive in their understanding and ability to express their wants and needs.
Here are 10 helpful tips if you’re considering baby sign language with your child.
*Disclaimer: These are the things we’ve done to teach our kids sign language in addition to verbal communication. My children are not deaf. I acknowledge that if you have children who are deaf, overall, these may not be the best suggestions for your family.
1. Start simple, with only one or two signs
Remember, the whole world is new to a baby. Your little one is constantly taking in their surroundings and learning new things.
So, even though you’re probably excited and eager to share this communication skill with them, try starting out super simple.
At the beginning, introduce only one or two words.
Assess how well they’re grasping the concept, and then you can slowly add in more signs over time.
2. Use signs alongside verbal language, not as a replacement
Remember, the goal is to teach an additional form of communication, not a replacement. (*Again, if your child is part of the hearing community.*) Something that your baby can start using before they master sounds.
If you stop talking and only use signs as communication, it doesn’t encourage your baby to explore verbal language, which is obviously also important.
So, anytime you model a sign, or help them do it, remember to actually say the word too.
3. Implement signs that follow a Cause & Effect pattern
When you’re starting out, choose signs that have a clear “reward.” For example, doing a sign like “milk” will reward your little one with their bottle.
Once they learn the cause & effect pattern, they’ll be much more eager to start initiating signs, such as whenever they want a drink of milk.
Rather than starting with animal signs or emotional concepts, which are a little harder to grasp, try signs like: milk, eat, want, more, all done, please, etc.
4. Encourage the sign (Don’t force!)
It can be tempting to grab your little one’s hands and help them do the sign every. single. time.
But, have you ever noticed the resistance that occurs when babies don’t feel like they have a choice? Maybe it’s after meals when you come over to wash their hands and face with a washcloth. – They know what’s coming, and they immediately start to whine and pull away.
When you’re teaching signs, you don’t want it to become a negative thing.
Instead of forcing the action, model the sign for your baby. Show them how, by doing it yourself.
Or you can *gently* help them do it. Just don’t insist if they pull away or start doing it for them every time.
5. Be patient
When you’re encouraging baby sign language, try asking a simple question to prompt your kiddo, such as “do you want to eat?” or “are you all done?”
Then, if you’ve already taught the sign before… wait.
Seriously. Just pause and give them a moment to process.
Rushing in to give them the answer may take away their opportunity to express what they actually want or feel in that moment.
6. Incorporate signs into regular activities
Use signs throughout the entire day.
- When they first wake up in the morning.
- During a meal.
- When you’re getting ready for naps.
- During playtime.
- When you’re reading books.
Anytime you can use a sign, go for it!
Figure out which signs would be appropriate (for example, during meals- “eat,” “all done,” “more,” etc.), and then incorporate them naturally into your day.
7. Be consistent
Repetition, repetition, repetition.
The more your baby sees the sign, the more it’s going to become a natural form of communication. When you’re talking about an object or action, don’t just occasionally use a sign. Always pair the sign with it.
Here’s what that might look like:
Your baby learns that the “sleep” sign is going to always be part of the nap or bedtime routine.
“Eat” is always going to be the sign when you offer food.
“Play” is always going to be offered before you set her down by her toys.
8. Use additional resources (especially visual)
Try incorporating concrete objects into your teaching. Something your baby can see and connect with the sign. This is super easy for things like “milk” or “food.”
Here are some others to consider:
- Using animal toys to teach “dog,” “cat,” “elephant,” “lion”
- Teach the sign “baby” with a baby doll
- Pointing out “flowers,” “bird,” “tree” on a walk
- Showing pictures in books, specific to the new signs you’re teaching
- Signing “car” when you take baby out to the car to run an errand
- Taking little trips to the zoo, aquarium, or park to show other real life application of signs
We also love the “Signing Time” dvd’s (linked here). When our little girl was young, it was the only tv show she was interested in – possibly because she liked seeing visual representation of the signs she was familiar with, and she could watch other kids do the signs too.
Plus, the show helped me easily learn a couple new signs that could be used in daily activities.
(There’s also a Signing Time program, linked here. I’ve never tried it, but it’s from the same creators as the show.)
9. Teach the signs to friends, relatives, and babysitters
Choose the most important signs and/or the ones you’re focusing on during that time, and teach them to family, friends, and babysitters. Ask them to use the signs when they’re around and talking to your baby.
Not only will it form consistency for your baby, but doing this will help your little one feel understood when they start using signs on their own and wants others to know what they’re saying.
10. Have fun with it!
Baby sign language shouldn’t be stressful – for both you and your baby!
Make this a fun new endeavor, with lots of praise and excitement. (Even before your baby has caught on, and you’re the only one doing the sign. It might feel silly, but show lots of excitement anyways!)
It’s possible that your baby may not ever feel inclined to participate. But don’t feel discouraged if that’s the case! It’s still very likely that the signs will aid in their overall understanding of language.
Especially if your baby is on track for normal development, remember that baby signs are not a necessity, just an additional communication tool. So, don’t stress yourself out by expecting signs to be one more milestone they must reach.
Just have fun with it, and see if it’s something your kiddo gets excited about.
One more tip:
Signs that require very specific finger positioning or movements can be difficult for little hands (such as distinguishing the difference between “no” and “bird.”) Feel free to introduce those signs, but you might have to do some guess work when they haven’t developed those fine motor skills yet and are eagerly trying to tell you something. Don’t worry though, context is everything, and deciphering what your baby means isn’t as difficult as it sounds.
Good luck in teaching baby sign language to your little one!
It’s an exciting moment when your baby initiates communication through their first sign, and you’re able to connect on a new level.
I’m excited for you to potentially have that experience!
Let me know in the comments below which tip for baby sign language you found most helpful.
And as always, feel free to reach out with any questions or if you need some encouraging words in your journey of motherhood!