Sign Language for Babies


It is the second time in three days that I have heard about sign language for babies: a FB friend mentioned a baby she has in care learning the sign for “more”; the other was a colleague who teaches History and Geography in German in a special program we have in my school and who has taught her son a few signs.

I therefore googled some key-words and found numerous articles related to babies and sign language. The main idea is that a child can sign before she can speak and is thus able to express herself at an early age in a few key situations.

One of the advantages of sign language is that it reduces the frustration linked to the inability for a very young child to express himself. Fewer tears and tantrums certainly can’t hurt a child-parent relationship.

In addition, it seems that by developping this skill, a child develops other skills and in the end talks more and more fluently than his peers.

Specialists recommand starting with easy and common words such as milk, more, eat, sleep and saying them at the same time. Once the child starts using them, add more words.

More on this topic:
Signing with your baby
Signing Babies
Sign Language – Start Baby Signing: Five Simple Steps


23 thoughts on “Sign Language for Babies

  1. Hmmm, I’ve never heard of this. It does seem like a lot of effort on the parents’ part… as a mom, I didn’t have a hard time figuring out what my babies need. On the other hand, I have a very, very hard time convincing my very verbal 8 year old that her wants may not be her needs.

    • I have a very, very hard time convincing my very verbal 8 year old that her wants may not be her needs.
      I just love your comment. At least she is very verbal; isn’t it better than introverted?

      • I suppose I trained her that way – now I have to live with it! (and yes, better that she is outspoken than quiet. I just have to learn to continue to say no, even when she tells me how mean I am).

  2. I’ve heard about this. Seems really cool! Maybe I’ll try it with my (future) kids. There’s also stuff about teaching babies as young as almost newborn to swim far before they can walk which is also quite beneficial. Babies are so cool!

    • I did water babies with my eldest son. It turned out he took the longest of my three to learn to swim (so much for all the early lessons), but I did have a great time when he was a baby with the water baby classes.

  3. I have mixed feelings about this. I think it is a good idea, yet, also feel that a child could end up relying more on the sign language than the verbalizing of their wants, needs, etc.

    A friend of mine has a granddaughter who was taught that beginning when she was an infant, and she has difficulty verbally expressing herself at the age of almost four years old, and relies more on the signing.

  4. this is such an interesting topic, right? VERY popular amongst the mama set right now. we never used formal signs w/ our kids but noticed that they made certain motions to mean certain things and we would then reiterate the sign *and* the word 9that’s the key right there) back at them and it did indeed become a mode of communication. genius, right? love the post!

    • Thanks for the feedback Galit. I had the feeling it was quite THE thing at the moment.
      It seems some kids will find a way to express themselves even if it is not by using the language everybody else speaks. thus my brother spoke quite late (although very articulately when he did); in the meantime he had found a translator for his own baby language: me.

  5. My friend did that and it was useful for times when her child wasn’t well (and still was not old enough to speak) – instead of simply crying from discomfort she eventually managed to make a sign near her ear, which was what hurt. Now she’s talking and communicating well 🙂

  6. I remember reading about this years ago – when my older kids were babies.

    However, I must confess that I still don’t see the point. IMHO, it sounds like a solution for a non-existent problem. As Leora notes, most mothers can figure out why their babies are crying…

    • I suppose moms who work at home – like you and Leora – spend more time with their kids than those who work outside the home. That’s probably why you could understand your kids’ problems better, on top of your own accute perceptiveness.

  7. I used signing with both my kids. I never felt that it was replacing spoken language–there is a point when it is far more efficient to speak (it’s faster, the person to whom you’re speaking doesn’t have to be in the same room, looking at you, etc.), and kids figure that out!

    In terms of figuring out what’s wrong, sometimes you know approximately but not specifically. You may get a general idea WHY your child is upset, but is your 16 month old going to be able to say “I don’t want milk; I want water?” Or “the bath is too cold for me?” Or “I want to put on my shoes and go outside?” Babies and toddlers are different for this, I think–your 6 month old is not going to have opinions on clothes, food, activities, but your 18 month old absolutely will!

    My daughter’s speech development was average–meaning that she didn’t string together sentences until she was 18-19 months. But she signed 3 words together way before that. I used it not only to figure out what she wanted and what she was thinking/observing (when we walked she signed to point out what she was seeing), but also to give her choices when, in reality, control over her life was extremely limited. But “do you want peach yogurt or strawberry?” “Do you want to wear a dress or pants?” “Do you want to read a book or play with trains?” It sounds insignificant now that she will not shut up, but I really feel like it helped smooth over the period of 9-18 months when she had SO MUCH to communicate but could not get the thoughts out in proper speech.

    My son’s speech was delayed. He was in speech therapy from about 21-36 months (by the end he was fully verbal, just “cleaning up,” but when we started he had really no spoken words). We relied on ASL for so much–he could express ideas/wants/needs far beyond just basics. Here is one of my favorite ASL stories with him:

  8. I did sign with all three of my boys when they were babies. It was wonderful! They were able to express themselves so clearly with sign. Each of them was verbal from early on, but even Mom has a hard time understanding what her child is asking for sometime. I recall one instance where my oldest was about 13 months old and kept asking for something verbally. I could NOT figure out what he was saying and he was getting frustrated and upset with me because I couldn’t understand. Finally said, “Ask me with your hands”. He signed “Ball, please”, I handed him the ball, and he was a happy kid once again.

    My kids are older (8, 5, and 4) and the only time we use sign is when we come across a hearing impaired person (we have a checker at Target and she lights ups that we’re able to sign “Thank you” and such). I think baby sign is probably a fad, but it was a great one for my family. I’m glad we did it.

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