Motherhood

Baby Sign Language: When to Start and What to Teach

Guest Post: Rebecca Lee9 months ago4 min read

Baby sign language is an incredible way to get your little one to communicate earlier than they would say their first verbal word. But why should you try it? Well, teaching baby sign language is said to reduce tantrums, increase the parent/child bond, and potentially facilitate speech and language development.

Teaching baby sign language

Since a baby usually says their first word around one year old, the idea that they can use their first sign to communicate at six months is pretty impressive.

As a parent myself, I understand the frustration that you feel when you don’t understand why your baby is crying or having a tantrum. And then they get frustrated as well when they can’t express their wants and needs. Babies often want to tell us these things (even at a very early age!), and introducing them to baby sign language gives them this capability. Sold yet?

What is a good age to start teaching your baby sign language?

Babies can start understanding sign language as early as four months old and can start using signs as early as six months old (impressive, huh!). After introducing the concept of baby sign language, it takes about 6 to 12 weeks for them to sign back. The most important thing is to be consistent, be extremely repetitive, and to not give up.

What are the most important signs to teach?

As a speech language pathologist, I’ve seen how babies who are taught baby sign language display far less frustration and increase communication than those who are not. For that reason, the most important signs that I recommend teaching are the ones that help your little one express their wants, needs, and emotions on a daily basis.

This includes the signs for ‘more’, ‘all done’, ‘milk’, ‘help’, and ‘hurt’. Teaching ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can be beneficial, too.

Does baby sign language delay speech?

Many parents often come to me and say they want to start teaching baby sign language, but they’re afraid that it will delay speech. This is a myth! Baby sign language is not a replacement for speech, but merely an extra. It’s an exciting way to get your child communicating early.

You should always pair the word with the sign, to show your baby that speaking and signing are both important.

How do you teach baby sign language?

I recommend teaching baby sign language during routines. Babies thrive on routines, and having them expect sign language during theirs (think: meal time, play time, bath time, and bedtime) is an extra benefit. It’s best to pick between four and five signs to start with. These signs should be the ones that you feel are more important for you and your little one.

  • During meal time, teach: ‘eat’, ‘more’, and ‘all done’.
  • During play time, teach: ‘play, ‘toys’, and ‘all done’.
  • During bath time, teach: ‘bath,’ and ‘more,’ (for more water, more bath toys, etc.)
  • During bedtime, teach: ‘sleepy,’ ‘book,’ or even ‘music.’

Will I stress my baby out if I teach too many signs at once?

Don’t be afraid to overwhelm your baby. Their brain is like a sponge at this age, they’re absorbing everything. Everything is exciting and new, and they welcome whatever comes their way. Since it’s important to be consistent, my suggestion is to do what does not overwhelm you as the parent. Staying consistent and being repetitive every day is what’s most crucial for the learning process.

And remember, have fun! This is such an exciting stage, and teaching your little one baby sign language is truly a bonding experience. You’ve got this, mama!