I was very interested in teaching my baby sign language. I mean what could be better than a little baby being able to communicate before they could actually talk? Sounded too good to be true! I read some concerns that by teaching them sign language they won’t talk as quickly but in my house this was not true at all. There is also, of course, research that says it helps them speak quicker. We used sign language as a segue to words. My then 3 year old could not stop talking and what’s even cuter is having watched him teach my 1 year old different signs.
I will say that I did not fully invest in teaching my children signs for every word. This is not to say you shouldn’t, I just chose to focus on the ones that would impact us the most. Below are 5 useful signs to teach your baby.
The 5 signs that Changed my Communication with My Baby
First and foremost I wanted my baby to learn to sign “nurse”. I was a first time mom nursing my son when none of my family had nursed. I was used to a regimen of feed bottle then 4 hours later feed another. Well any breastfeeding mom can tell you that is NOT how breastfeeding goes. I was desperate for him to sign nurse instead of the guessing game of what’s wrong with my son? Whip out boob, thenbaby latches- 10 seconds later unlatches because it isn’t what he wanted then to fussing again to find out he really wanted be held and walked around or he was just teething and miserable.
I’m not sure I can adequately express the stress of just constantly whipping out the boob hoping that it would make them stop crying. I began signing “milk” which for us I called “nurse” at about 4 months old. The sign is very simply opening and closing of the fists while your hands are vertical. When he fussed I would sign nurse them stick him on the boob hoping for the association. At 9 months he got it! And it was smooth sailing after that. Can I also just say, watching him walk/run towards you opening and closing his little fists as fast as he can to get to your boobs about made my heart erupt with love.
It seemed to go easier once they learned one sign to learn another. The association that they could communicate made my boys just as excited as I was. So the next sign we taught was “more.” This was not only adorable but it increased our efficiency in helping our son before epic meltdowns. He would take a bit of food then sign more. This is just putting all your fingertips together as close as they can from each hand and tapping your fingers of each hand together at the tips. We tended to do it repeatedly so both of my boys tapped their fingers together furiously when they were really excited.
They even transferred it to activities. We would read a book then they would sign more for us to read it again. All we did was every time they wanted more food or us to read it again we would sign and say the words “do you want more” until he made the association and would sign himself.
Eat. Once we dived into Baby Led Weaning-BLW at 6 months (which you can read about our journey HERE) we needed a sign for eat and nurse so we could tell the difference. He picked up on this one very quickly. Every time he would get frustrated and we would go through the laundry list of what he could possibly want we would sign and say “eat.” This sign for us was your fingertips together and brought to your mouth, and we would tap our lips with our fingertips.
Another very helpful sign was “all done” we actually taught him this a little incorrectly but the concept is the same. Our sons open their hands and spread their fingers, hold them up and do a waving motion with both simultaneously. It’s close to the actual sign.
We were VERY happy with this one as my son had a tendency to drop all food on the ground when he was done. Oh so joyful. So each time we said and signed “all done” until he would sign all done and not just throw his food. This took a good 3-4 months to fully solidify around 15 months.
Lastly, my son struggled (and still does) in situations that he doesn’t have full control over or when things don’t go the way he wants them to. So to avoid the screaming toddler (well as much as possible) we taught him the sign for help. This one we taught correctly but ultimately led him to just putting his hand in a fist, thumb up in the air and quickly raising his hand in the air. This sign was the shortest lived one as he got older and his basic gross and fine motor skills improved.
All kids are different
My son’s first words were both at around 6 months (both were Mama!) For my first son even after he learned his signs he developed new words and sounds consistently. He said nurse since about 1 year old (initially just sounded like nuh nuh) but would also sign. He gradually stopped using signs at about 2 years old.
My second son (13 months at the moment) learned eat, more and nurse but has decided for nurse he will just open and close his mouth repeatedly. Honestly he looks like an adorable fish but he refuses to sign it. It gets the job done- he doesn’t scream or cry and we have effectively communicated which is the whole point! He currently signs eat and more most of the time.
I think the key to remember is the point is to just help bridge that gap of non verbal communication until they can communicate. It doesn’t really matter if you teach “nurse” to be a head bob or the traditional sign for “milk”. Just be consistent and before you give them what they are asking for you make the sign and say the word. They’ll get it.