The Laid Back Parent’s Guide to Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Langauge

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I don’t remember when I first heard of baby sign language, but I’m pretty sure I probably thought it sounded crazy.  Why would you teach your baby to sign instead of talk, right?  I think initially I was concerned that if she was communicating with us by signing, she wouldn’t feel the need to try to talk.  I have been proven wrong!

While we didn’t go crazy with baby sign language, Little Miss does know about 10 signs that have helped her communicate with us.  Here are a few tips for introducing signs to your little one if you’re looking for a laid back approach.

Start slow

I started using the signs for milk and done when Little Miss was about 6 months old.  It took several months before she started using them herself, though. While it might be discouraging and seem like your child isn’t noticing or doesn’t understand the signs, keep signing.  She was picking up a whole lot more than we realized and it does take a while for babies to get the coordination down to sign.

Once she figured out that she could sign something to us and we understood what she wanted, it was game on!  It is so tempting to quit in the beginning because it seems like you’re only doing it for yourself (kind of like when you read to a baby), but keep signing and eventually you’ll start getting some reciprocation.

Be consistent

Consistency was a big key for us when teaching Little Miss to sign.  You won’t always remember, but if you’re working on a sign with your baby, make sure to use it!  When we started using the sign for milk, I would sign it every time I gave her a bottle.  I would say the word, sign it, and then give her the bottle.  Then, when she finished eating, I would sign and say the word done.  

It is especially important to be consistent when you are introducing a new sign.  Don’t go crazy and use your new word and sign just because, but use the new word naturally in conversation with your baby.


Don’t overwhelm yourself (or your baby)

I remember the first time Little Miss actually signed for something she wanted.  Once she started eating solids we taught her to sign more.  One day, while eating in her highchair, she signed more and meant it!  I was so excited that I may or may not have downloaded a couple of baby sign language apps so I could teach her more signs!  But then I realized that doing that would overwhelm both of us, so I scaled it back a bit and just taught her one.

We are still teaching her signs now, even though she is talking, because some words are just hard to say.  She enjoys the challenge, but we still only introduce one at a time to keep her from feeling overwhelmed.

Guide to Baby Sign Language

Perfection isn’t important

It’s so easy to get hung up on the mechanics of baby sign language that you miss what your baby is trying to tell you.  For example, the sign for done is typically done right in front of the chest and is just a simple rotation of the wrists.  We tend to get really excited about being done (with anything and everything), and so our version of done looks more like a dance party with arms flailing overhead.  And that works for us.  We know what Little Miss means and we work with it.  Remember, you’re dealing with a baby or toddler here and their coordination is still a work in progress!

Your baby doesn’t need to know every sign

I cannot tell you how tempting it is to try to teach your child every sign for every word that he or she may ever need.  I mentioned earlier that I downloaded an app of signs (which I still reference) and you can mark your favorite signs and keep them in one place for easy reference. Well, I sat down with that app and marked about 50 words that I just knew Little Miss needed to know.  And then I thought about it and realized that for our family, that was excessive.

I opted for choosing words that I knew we would use several times each day and stuck to those.  Now I can gradually add words on if I think they’re necessary, but I don’t stress about her knowing every sign for every single item or feeling she might come in contact with.  If you are that dedicated and want to go that route, I say “More power to you!”  I’m just not that disciplined!

Some signing may stop as talking begins

Now that Little Miss is getting more verbal by the day, some of her signing has slowed down.  For the most part, as she learns to say a word, she will still sign it when she says it.  Just this week she has learned to say please (which is maybe the cutest thing ever!) and she will say it and sign it at the same time.

On the other hand, some words she still hasn’t tried to say, but she signs them frequently.  We can always tell when she is very adamant or excited about something because she will sign those words with a lot of expression and over and over again.  Usually those words are more and eat!  I think that those are her two favorite signs for sure!

Guide to Baby Sign Language

Baby Sign Language is fun!

The most important thing we’ve learned so far through this journey with baby sign language is that it is fun.  Our daughter is able to communicate her wants and needs to us even if she can’t verbalize the words yet.  That’s exciting!  Don’t let yourself stress or get worried if your baby doesn’t pick up on it right away.  Just relax and enjoy the process.

Baby Sign Language Resources

Here are a couple of resources we have used to learn more about baby sign language and learn the signs.  We downloaded the Baby Sign and Learn app and their website has lots of other resources.  I also may have gone a little nuts and DVR’d every episode of Signing Time on PBS, but then never watched them.  It is a great show with lots of signs that older kids would enjoy too.  They also have DVDs.

Have you used baby sign language or are you considering using it?  What sign did you teach first?  Do you think baby sign language is nuts?  Leave a comment and let me know!

The Laid Back Parent's Guide to Baby Sign Language


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  • Reply
    November 9, 2016 at 6:04 pm

    Love the new site- looks great!!-

    • Reply
      November 9, 2016 at 10:08 pm

      Thank you! I’m pleased with how it’s turned out!

  • Reply
    November 12, 2016 at 11:51 am

    My grandsons daycare teaches sign language and I never heard of doing that but think it’s great , now his baby sister is learning it.

    • Reply
      November 12, 2016 at 2:59 pm

      Thanks for reading Gaynell! It really is amazing how quickly little ones pick up on it!

  • Reply
    Shannon Marie Kiechlin
    March 3, 2017 at 9:09 pm

    I started learning ASL just for fun and am trying to teach my 9 month old nephew a few signs. my sister is on board with it and I can’t wait to see how he does with it. this page is really encouraging.

    • Reply
      March 6, 2017 at 9:38 pm

      How fun Shannon! I’ve always wanted to learn ASL and signing with my daughter has only made me want to learn more! Thanks for visiting the site!

  • Reply
    June 14, 2017 at 5:57 pm

    Thanks for this post! My baby was born in April and we’ve been doing the sign for “milk” from the beginning…and I swear I’ve seen her sign it a couple of times 🙂 It’s the encouragement I need to keep going 🙂

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