Monday, April 4, 2011

Baby Steps For Baby Signs 2: How to Get Your Child To Sign

So you're thinking about using baby signs with your little one, eh?  Let's assume that you've already learned how baby signs can be helpful for language development and you've done your research to find out how to select the signs to use with your child. You're armed and ready. The next step is to apply all that knowledge as you teach your baby to sign along with you. Although this can seem like an overwhelming task, a few simple tips will get you well on your way.

Show Off Your Stuff
As you may have guessed, your first step is to show your baby the signs that you think would help him communicate with you.  Every time you show him the sign, also say the word. You can start doing this any time, but your baby is probably most likely to pay attention to what you are doing around 6-8 months.  If you do start signing at this age, though, know that your baby might not sign back at you immediately. Take heart and know that your baby *is* watching, you, however. Soon enough, he'll start signing back-- and all that signing you did with him as a baby will have laid the groundwork for what is to come.

Around 11-12 months, children reach a new stage of development that turns them into little imitators. Watch your little one carefully for this important sign of readiness, as you don't want to frustrate her by expecting her to imitate your signs when she's just not yet able to. When you see her start imitate your actions more often, you'll know she's ready to start imitating your signs, too.  At this point, you can use a new strategy to help her understand how to use her signs. The strategy is called communication temptations, and it goes a little something like this:

1. Get your toddler involved in something she loves (bubbles, snack time, tickles)
2. Give her just a bit (blow the bubbles one time, give her a few goldfish, tickle her just a bit)
3. Show her the sign and say the word
4. Wait just a bit
5. Continue the activity (blow the bubbles again, give her a few more goldfish, tickle her again)
6. Repeat

Do this consistently, and your toddler will probably start imitating you right after you do the sign. Once this has happened, keep using communication temptations and then wait for a minute before you show her the sign. She might just do it on her own! 

Give Her A Hand
Your child might start imitating signs all on her own, especially if you use communication temptations with her on a regular basis.  If she doesn't, though, you can give her an extra boost by taking her hands and helping her do the sign when you expect her to use it.  Do it quickly, keep it fun, and then give her what she wants. Be careful though: some independent toddlers will resist this....and that's okay. Don't push too hard, or you'll both end up frustrated and discouraged. If your toddler doesn't want you to help her do the sign, go back to just showing her the signs when she wants something or sees something interesting. She'll get it eventually.

Don't Expect Perfection
Young children aren't able to move their hands like we can, especially when they are first learning to sign.  At first, accept anything that looks even close to the sign you are trying to teach her.  Many children, for example, will just clap when they are first trying to sign "more."  This is totally fine-- encourage all your child's attempts to use a sign. Remember, the goal is communication, not perfect signing!  Accept her attempt and then continue showing her how to do the sign the right way. In time, she'll come to do the same.

Books and Movies
Some children like learning signs from books or movies that are focused on teaching signs. While I don't typically use these to teach signs to the kids I work with, many parents have told me that this was the way they taught their little one to use signs.  If you want to go this route, you might check into Baby Einstein's My First Signs DVD or a toddler book such as Baby Signs by Joy Allen.

Have Fun
Last, but certainly never least, make sure you have lots and lots of fun. This is a time for you and your baby to love and laugh and grow together. Enjoy it!

Looking for more information on Baby Signs?

Find out how using baby signs helps your child develop language here.
Learn how to select which signs to use with your baby here


  1. Okay, so here's a question...

    I've been trying to sign some of the simple things like eat, all done, please, thank you, etc and he just is NOT interested. Is there any suggestion for getting an almost 2 year old involved?

  2. Thanks, that's really helpful. My son is 11 months now so I'm going to have a go at that communication temptations when he wakes up!

  3. Glad it was helpful! Hope it goes well... :)

  4. Hi, I stumbled you (and added a review). I love this series!

    Here's my post:
    henry happened

  5. Very helpful Becca!! I used the communications with my 2 children and it helped!!
    Stumbled your post!

  6. We were trying to use signs with our daughter but she didn't respond too much. Once she got the hang of 'more' though she used it a LOT and the speech therapist had her doing more signs (open, want, eat) at their first session. Then I was getting those signs fast and furious. She would stand in front of the refrigerator and sign "open, more, eat" as fast as she could! Now that her verbal language is taking off she has dropped a lot of the signs but she will still use them once in a while.

    I stumbled you, my post is

  7. i stumbled you
    Love this! Can't wait to try sign with Baby H...

  8. I always wondered how to start this. thanks for the info!
    I stumbled your post! Here's my link:

  9. I love the concept of communication temptations. Brilliant stuff.
    I stumbled you. My post is:

  10. I really enjoy reading your posts!

    I hope you'll link up at Stumble Tumble Tuesday again this week.

    I stumbled you and would love it if you stumble me back

  11. Great information. Giving you a follow from Tuesday hop.