Baby Signs – the easy guide

Signing with your baby is super easy, and a great way to reduce the crying and increase the understanding.

You really do not need a book or class to learn how to sign, you teach your baby to sign just like you teach her to talk – by doing it over and over again even though she can’t understand! In fact, everyone teaches their child one sign: waving. Yet nobody buys a book about ‘How To Teach Your Child to Wave Bye.’ Just go for it! Below are some instructions, for what it’s worth, and some motivation for why the extra effort is worth it.

How To: Pick two or three words to start with. Babies tend to pick up fun signs before useful signs, so pick 1 or 2 of each to start with. With my littlest we started with 1 useful sign: ‘hungry,’ and 1 fun sign: ‘Stella,’ (her older sister). Notice what your baby gets excited about (dogs? big brother? squirrels?) and choose that as your first ‘fun’ sign.

The ‘language’ that you develop with your little one is just for her and her care givers, so no need to use standardized signs. So, now choose a very simple hand motion to match to the word. Keep in mind the very limited control your baby has over her limbs! For hungry we pat our palm to our mouth, for ‘Stella’ we pat our heads.

Now, every time you say this word, make the hand motion at the same time. Help your baby to make the sign so that she can get the feel for it.

Depending on when you start, you will probably sign to your baby for a few months before your baby signs back to you. Keep an eye out for your baby reinterpreting your signs to match her motor skills. When we gave our daughter a sign for dog, we made it a wagging finger – but soon realized that she was making the dog sign by swinging her entire arm back and forth! By the time your baby is around 1 year she should be able to pick up signs after just a few repetitions.

There are so many benefits to signing. For one, your baby can make himself understood in more ways than just crying vs smiling – meaning less crying.

Signing with your baby also includes her in your world more easily, as she can point out to you what she is interested in. You can take this lead to engage her in her interests ‘oh, I see that dog too! Look at the big tail, it is black.’ or ‘You’re thinking about dogs? Let’s go find a picture of a dog to look at.’

Being able to sign usually leads to earlier language acquisition, and the thought is that the child is more motivated and encouraged to speak since she is already used to being understood. Once your little one can already speak, learning signs continues to be helpful to incorporate words that an early talker can’t pronounce. Maybe she can say ‘milk’ and ‘all-done’ but wants to talk about zebras. Signing does not inhibit language, and is a great tool to encourage late talkers to move towards communicating.


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