We all hate seeing our kids unhappy—but when baby is too young to speak, it can be hard to know exactly what your little one wants. In recent years, more and more parents are turning to baby sign language to help boost communication with their preverbal kids.
Baby sign language is a set of simple hand gestures (aka signs) that correspond to common words you use with baby every day. Sometimes the baby signs are the same as those used in American Sign Language, but not always.
Wondering how to teach baby sign language? A good time to start is when baby is between 4 and 6 months old, according to Jann Fujimoto, CCC-SLP, a certified speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. There are different approaches to teaching baby sign language (there are lots of classes and books on the topic), but generally you can teach baby by saying a word, like “milk,” while making the sign at the same time, and then giving baby the milk. Repetition—and patience—is key. Keep in mind, your little one likely won’t start making signs on her own until she’s about 6 to 9 months.
When you’re ready to begin teaching baby sign language, you’ll need to decide which baby signs to start with. Consider which words you and your family use the most on a day-to-day basis. Need some help? Here, we’ve illustrated how to teach 25 common baby signs.
Common Baby Signs
We’re betting these basic baby signs will be among the first signs you teach your little one. Here’s how to make them.
Baby sign for ‘hungry’
Make the sign for “hungry” by cupping your hand around your neck to make a C shape, then move your hand down from your neck to your stomach.
Baby sign for ‘drink’
To sign “drink,” make a C shape with your hand, as if you were holding a cup, then move it to your mouth as if you were drinking from it.
Baby sign for ‘milk’
To sign “milk,” make two fists, then extend your fingers and bring them back into fists.
Baby sign for ‘water’
The sign for “water” is made by extending your three middle fingers so they’re pointing up, with your thumb and pinkie tucked down, and then tapping your index finger to your chin.
Baby sign for ‘more’
Make the sign for “more” by pinching your thumbs and fingers together on both hands, creating two O shapes, then tapping your fingertips together a few times.
Baby sign for ‘done’
You can sign “all done” by using the ASL sign for “finished.” Start with your hands up, palms facing toward you, and turn them until your palms face out.
Baby sign for ‘play’
To sign “play,” clench your fingers to your palms, leaving your thumbs and pinkies extended; then with palms facing you, twist your wrists back and forth.
Baby sign for ‘sleep’
The “sleep” sign is done by holding your hand over your forehead with your fingers spread apart, then drawing your hand down over your face until your fingers and thumb come together to touch your chin.
Baby sign for ‘mom’
To make the sign for “mom,” spread your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your chin.
Baby sign for ‘dad’
Make the sign for “dad” by spreading your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your forehead.
Baby sign for ‘poop’
You can sign “poop” by clenching both hands into fists and stacking them on top of each other, with the thumb of the bottom hand tucked inside the upper fist. Then, pull your bottom hand down from the upper hand, leaving your thumb extended.
Baby sign for ‘yes’
The “yes” sign looks like a nodding head. Make a fist and then, folding at your wrist, bob your fist up and down.
Baby sign for ‘no’
To sign “no,” extend your thumb, index and middle fingers, then quickly snap them together.
Baby sign for ‘food’
The “food” sign (also the sign for “eat”) is done by flattening your fingers on top of your thumb and then bringing your fingertips to your mouth.
Baby sign for ‘help’
To sign “help,” make a fist with one hand, with the thumb extended, and place it over your other hand, which is extended flat. Then move both hands up together.
Baby sign for ‘bath’
The “bath” sign is done by making two fists, then moving them up and down in front of your chest (as if you were scrubbing yourself clean).
Baby sign for ‘book’
To sign “book,” clasp your palms together with your thumbs facing up, then hinge open your hands, keeping your pinkies together (as if you were cracking open a book).
Baby sign for ‘medicine’
The sign for “medicine” is made by placing your middle finger into the palm of your opposite hand and twisting.
Baby sign for ‘share’
To sign “share,” extended one hand flat, with your thumb pointing up. Then run your other hand back and forth along the top of your extended fingers.
Baby sign for ‘sorry’
The sign for “sorry” is made by rubbing a fisted hand in a circle over your chest.
Baby sign for ‘please’
To sign “please,” extend your fingers and thumb out, then rub your flattened palm against your chest in circles.
Baby sign for ‘thank you’
To sign “thank you,” straighten your thumb and fingers, then bring your fingers to your chin and pull them away.
Baby sign for ‘you’re welcome’
The sign for “you’re welcome” is the same as the sign for “thank you”—flatten your hand, bring your fingers to your chin and pull them back.
Baby sign for ‘I love you’
To sign “I love you,” extend your thumb, index and pinkie fingers (but keep your ring and middle fingers down). Hold your hand out with the palm facing away and rotate your hand side to side.
Baby sign for 'hurt'
The baby sign for "hurt" is done by clenching both hands into fists, then extending your index fingers and touching them together.
Baby Sign Language Chart
Here, you can see 25 of the most common signs, all in one comprehensive baby sign language chart.
Watch our Baby Sign Language video to learn key signs:
Published November 2018
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