Tips for Teaching Baby Sign Language

Teaching baby sign language to your little one could help you communicate with each other before your baby learns how to speak. Find out more about the potential benefits of baby sign language, get some tips for teaching it to your baby, and learn some of the basic signs that you can get started with.

What Is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language has become pretty trendy in the past 20 years—you probably know of some hit movies that have featured it! The popularity of sign language may be due in part to the fact that many babies can be taught to use their hands to "talk" sooner than they can learn speech. Of course, it will take time before your baby has the dexterity to use his hands in that way. Baby sign language may be a way for your baby to communicate starting at about 8 or 9 months old or a little later on. It's important to know that baby sign language is different from the sign language that is used by the hearing impaired. In some cases baby sign language uses modified gestures from American Sign Language, making it similar but not the same. Keep in mind that teaching your baby sign language is optional. It’s just one tool you could use to communicate with your little one at a time when your baby may have something to say but can’t yet communicate with speech.

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When Should You Start Teaching Your Baby Sign Language?

You can start teaching baby sign language early in infancy—experts suggest starting at around 6 or 7 months. Just be aware that babies probably won’t be able to communicate using baby sign language until they are at least 8 months old.

Basic Baby Sign Language Chart

Check out the following baby sign language chart for some of the most practical signs you can teach your baby. Teaching her these signs may turn out to be useful, such as when she’s trying to express that she wants more milk or her dad.

How to Teach Basic Baby Sign Language

The good news is that learning baby sign language and teaching it to your little one isn't that difficult, though the process will require consistent effort, lots of repetition, and patience on your part. Here are some tips for teaching baby sign language to your baby:

  • Start simple. Pick a few signs that would be meaningful for your child. For example, if his favorite activity is going to the park, teach him the sign for “park.” Here’s a list of 30 simple and basic baby sign language signs that you could choose from (most are shown in the chart above):

    1. Baby

    2. Blanket

    3. Book

    4. Cat

    5. Dog

    6. Hot

    7. Cold

    8. Mommy

    9. Daddy

    10. Poop

    11. Drink

    12. Water

    13. Milk

    14. Cup

    15. Eat

    16. More

    17. All done

    18. Go

    19. Outside

    20. Sit

    21. Hungry

    22. Help

    23. Hurt

    24. I love you

    25. Nap

    26. Sleep

    27. Yes

    28. No

    29. Please

    30. Thank you.

  • Get interactive. As you go about your daily activities with your baby, include the appropriate sign. Try signing the word diaper while you’re changing her, food when you’re feeding her, or book when you’re reading her a bedtime story. Go ahead and sign words like eat or drink during mealtimes, or daddy when your child’s father walks into the room.

  • Develop a routine. Sit your baby on your lap with his back to your stomach, and show him the signs by articulating his arms and hands while saying the word you are signing. Repetition will be the key to his learning, so take every opportunity to sign. Try to sign with him every day. In time your baby will learn to connect the word with the sign, and may start to use it.

  • Give it time. Don’t get frustrated or discouraged if your baby doesn’t pick up on sign language as quickly as you had hoped, or if she doesn’t get the signs quite right the first time. As with all new skills, learning baby sign language takes time.

  • Make it fun. Signing lessons can be the perfect time for bonding with your little one. Give lots of encouragement when your baby signs a word by praising, kissing, or hugging him. Make the lessons even more fun by signing and singing popular songs and lullabies, like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or “Old MacDonald Had a Farm,” and selecting some key words from the songs to sign to him. If you find that you’re not enjoying teaching baby sign language, you might consider not doing it.

  • Keep speaking. Just because your baby knows how to communicate using baby sign language doesn’t mean you should be talking to her any less frequently. Signing shouldn’t and doesn't take the place of speaking. Continue talking to your baby as often as you can, encouraging her responses, and keep enjoying storytime together.

  • Let others know you’re signing. Offer to teach other family members and friends who will care for or interact with your baby the basic signs so that they can recognize your baby’s signs. If someone else is teaching your baby, make sure you also learn the signs that are being taught to your baby so that you can understand what your baby is signing to you.

For more on how to teach your little one baby sign language, consult your child’s healthcare provider, who may recommend a book or online course on the subject. There may even be classes at your local community center.

What Are the Benefits of Using Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language can be a useful communication tool for babies, and also an ideal bonding opportunity for both of you. Baby sign language gives babies and young toddlers (between 8 months and 2 years) a way to communicate before they can say their first words. This may ease some of the frustration they might feel when they’re not able to say what they feel, want, or need yet. Knowing that your baby can convey some of those basic wants and needs through signing may take some of the guesswork out of parenting, too, as your little one will be able to tell you if she’s hungry or cold, for example.

Can Teaching Your Baby Sign Language Promote or Delay Speech?

There isn’t enough evidence yet to prove that baby sign language can help promote language development , literacy, or cognitive skills. However, there is a chance that it can benefit those babies who have developmental delays. Continuing to talk to your baby while also signing is important so your baby doesn’t fall behind in speech development. Contact your baby’s healthcare provider for personalized guidance on whether baby sign language is right for your little one.

The Bottom Line

Baby sign language can be an effective form of communication between you and your baby in those months before your baby or young toddler can express herself with speech. With consistent effort, you can teach your baby basic actions to sign that may help him communicate a specific want or need, like needing a drink or wanting more food to eat. It’s important to keep speaking to your little one alongside teaching baby sign language to ensure that her speech development stays on track. If you’ve decided baby sign language is something you’d like to teach your little one, find ways to make it fun and enjoy these shared bonding moments. Be consistent and stick with it. You’ll be so proud when you see your baby telling you something with his hands for the first time.

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.