5 Rules for Introducing Baby Sign
Updated: Sep 8
This was the scene at our house earlier this year: My husband and I relentlessly modeling baby sign for our 6 month old son, who seemed mostly uninterested. It went on like this for a WHILE and I mean A-W-H-I-L-E. Archer would try sometimes try push his baby T-Rex arms to midline for "more", but mostly, he was just watching and taking it all in. He did not sign a real approximation for "more" until almost 11 months old! By then, we had also introduced "eat", "milk", and "all done", none of which he was able to use, except for "milk", maybe a handful of times. It was a long road and we almost gave up, thinking "maybe baby sign just isn't for him'". Being an early intervention speech pathologist by trade, I refused to give up, and finally.... IT CLICKED!
Around 12 months, he started signing back! We took this window of opportunity to introduce 5-10 new signs. And just like that, he could imitate almost 20 gestures and signs. It was not an easy path, but it was totally worth it!! Now, at 13 months, he is not only imitating, but INITIATING using these signs to communicate in a variety of ways. Archer can tell us when he is hungry or thirsty, ask for "more", request "help", use "all done" to tell us he is finished, and several more! Best of all, he tells us "I love you" back by blowing kisses when we say it to him.... Heart melted!
My message to any parent (or therapist!) trying to introduce sign language to a child... don't give up! Read on for tips on how to achieve success. Try these *5 RULES for Introducing Baby Sign*...
*5 RULES for Introducing Baby
MODEL FIRST! Just like spoken language, kids may need to be exposed to a word in sign language hundreds of times before they are ready to use it for themselves (in our case, it might have been thousands!). Position yourself across from your baby so that they are paying attention and watching you as you model a sign. If you are having trouble getting your baby's attention, hold the item they want right next to your face and sign while you still have their attention. You can start modeling signs as early as 6 months, but it's never too late to start!
SAY THE WORD! Always say the word as you model the sign. We are using sign language to support and promote verbal language! Think of sign language as a visual support that will help them learn the word and make connections about meaning.
PROMOTE SUCCESS! Your child will likely be able to start imitating more gestures and signs between 9-12 months. Around this time, you may want to give them more opportunities to attempt the signs you are modeling. FIRST, model the sign AND say the word. THEN, pause and give your baby an expectant look (like your eyes are saying, can you do that?). Maybe they will try, maybe not. If not, try signing and saying the word ONE more time. If they still aren't imitating, move on! Sitting there and trying 10 times in a row without success isn't fun for anyone. You can try again later! Hand over hand support (taking their little hands and helping them do the sign) can be an effective tool for teaching, but be careful not to overuse this and listen to your child's cues if they are averse to this. This should be a positive experience, not one where you are routinely wrestling your child to help them sign "more".
PICK FUNCTIONAL SIGNS! What does that even mean?? Pick signs that will help your baby communicate for a variety of purposes. Your child should be able to sign to get basic needs met, request, protest, and ask for help before they learn 10 different signs to label animals. This is about supporting their communication skills to have more successful interactions and less frustration in your daily routines. Follow the link below for free resources outlining which signs to teach.
USE DAILY ROUTINES! In order to optimize learning, your baby should see the signs you choose to teach them multiple times per day, every day. Work signing into your daily routines to teach your child the expected times to use various signs. Be consistent and persistent. Use signs in a predictable context and keep modeling. It WILL click eventually, and the payoff is huge! Visit my website for a *FREE Guide* on how to use daily routines to teach your baby to sign. Just follow the link and find the button for FREE Baby Sign Resources! https://www.mommyandmemilestones.com/babysignresources
To learn more about which signs to teach and the exact steps to follow to successfully introduce signing with your child, check out my E-Book, The Practical Baby Sign Handbook, now available in my online storefront!
Laura Brown, MA, CCC-SLP
Mommy & Me Milestones