Should I Teach My Baby To Sign?

Should I Teach My Baby To Sign?

Should I Teach My Baby To Sign?

If you are a parent, you have probably heard of some people teaching their babies “baby sign”.  

Baby signing can be fun for parents and can decrease frustration for both baby and caregiver. However, there are no strong research studies to date that prove baby sign language leads to greater intelligence or early first words. There is little evidence to suggest that baby sign is beneficial, harmful or harmless to babies with typical hearing.

Speech-Pathologists are often in favour of baby signing since parents teaching signs to babies are frequently face to face with their child and repeat the sign often. Both the face to face communication as well as the repetition of words are great ways to facilitate early communication and first words. As indicated above, it also can decrease frustrations by both parent and child as the child feels connected to the caregiver and begins to learn and use signs to express his/her needs. The back and forth communication of signs (ie. I do something, I get a response) is a great connection to make as a baby, since this is the same back and forth we want to transfer to verbal language.   

Tips for using baby sign:

1. Always say the word out loud while signing, since spoken language is the ultimate goal.

2. Use the same animated voice you use when signing as you use with words alone with your child.  

3. If you teach your baby to sign, choose signs that are appropriate for their development.  Requests are typically the first words children speak and this is similar for signing.  A child would likely sign “milk” before “happy”. See below: “Recommended first signs”.

4. Don’t focus on shapes or colour names - they are not words that will help your child express their basic need/decrease frustration.

5. Make it fun and don’t force the signs just as you would not force words.

6. Signing should be interactive and in context (e.g. bath time, feeding, reading and changing a diaper), not through flashcards or DVDs.

7. The use of signs, is not the same as teaching sign language. If you do not know a specific sign, you can use a gesture that can represent the movement or object. Be consistent with the gesture and repeat it often. Gestures, nonetheless, help with comprehension.

8. You can begin signing or using gestures at any age, however, your child won’t typically be able to use those signs until approximately 8 months of age or later due to their motor development.

Recommended first signs

1. Questions to ask yourself when choosing signs for your child:

  • What is your baby interested in? Cars? Bubbles? Balls?
  • What motivates your baby? Food is usually a great motivator for babies!
  • What routines and activities do you see, hear, and do on a daily basis? (e.g. songs, bath time, story time, lunch).

2. Based on the above questions, come up with a list of your child’s interests and motivating items. Start with one or two signs, be consistent and REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT. Use the word in appropriate contexts (i.e. sign "milk" as you ask your child "do you want milk?")

3. My recommendations is to pick signs that represent words used often during the day. Your child’s favourite people, food, toys, activities. 

4. First signs frequently taught:

  • milk
  • more* (see note of caution)
  • eat
  • finished/all done
  • mommy/daddy/siblings name
  • food: banana, cracker, apple
  • toys:  ball, car, baby, bear

A caution about “more”

More is often an early sign that parents teach their babies, however, “more” is very non-specific and unless you know what your child is referring to, you may be left wondering what they want “more of”. For many typically developing children, they will quickly learn additional signs and/or words and be able to tell/show you more specifically what they would like more of. My suggestion is to teach your child specific vocabulary signs instead of “more”. If you are insistent on teaching your child “more”, when they sign “more” of an item, provide them with that specific sign as well (i.e "you want more crackers?" then sign both "more" and "crackers")

How to teach your baby to sign:

1. Make sure child can see you signing. Be FACE TO FACE. My favourite positions are when the baby is in the high chair, parent and baby are on the mat together, or baby is on the parent's lap facing in.

2. SAY THE WORD and show the sign together.  

3. Show your child the sign while saying the word. Wait. See if your child will copy your gesture/sign. If your child does not imitate your sign, use “HAND OVER HAND” to show your child how to make the sign himself.

4. REPEAT. REPEAT. REPEAT. Repetition is key for learning signs and spoken words.  

5. REINFORCE! Praise your child and give the child the requested item immediately so they make the connection. “I did something, I get something.”  

6. There are a number of great websites to teach you basic signs on the internet. This site is comprehensive and simple to follow. 

Check out Speech & Company's listing at to find out how you can receive $20 off your initial assessment + $10 off subsequent therapy sessions with your Healthy Moms Toronto Discount Card.

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