How to Teach Baby 25 Key Words in Baby Sign Language
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 (ASL), but not always.
Wondering how to teach baby sign language? A good time to start is when baby is 4 to 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 their own until they’re 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.
Ready to learn how to teach baby sign language? We’re betting these basic baby signs will be among the first ones you teach your little one. Here’s how to make them.
“Hungry” in sign language
It’s important for baby to be able to communicate when they’re tummy feels empty—you know, before they get hangry. Teach them how to show you they’re “hungry” in sign language. You can 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.
“Drink” in sign language
Want to learn how to sign “drink” in sign language? This one involves mimicking the action! 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.
“Milk” in sign language
Wondering how to teach baby sign language? It’s best to start with something baby knows, likes and wants—for example, milk. You can communicate the word “milk” in sign language, by making two fists, then extend your fingers and bring them back into fists.
“Water” in sign language
Teach baby how to request “water” in sign language, and you’ll always know when your little one wants their sippy cup. 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.
“More” in sign language
Do you have trouble knowing if and when baby wants extra spoonfuls of their favorite puree? “More” is another important word for you and baby to learn. To express “more” in sign language, pinch your thumbs and fingers together on both hands, creating two O shapes, then tapping your fingertips together a few times.
“Done” in sign language
When baby is full, they want you to stop shoving that spoon toward their mouth. Teach them to let you know they’re “all done” without fussing by using the ASL sign for “finished.” Start with your hands up, palms facing toward you, and turn them until your palms face out.
“Play” in sign language
When it comes to baby sign language, the sign “play” certainly belongs in your arsenal. To communicate “play” in sign language, clench your fingers to your palms, leaving your thumbs and pinkies extended; then with palms facing you, twist your wrists back and forth.
“Sleep” in sign language
Nobody likes having a fussy, sleep-deprived baby on their hands, so it’s a good idea to practice “sleep” in sign language. Hold your hand over your forehead with your fingers spread apart, then draw your hand down over your face until your fingers and thumb come together to touch your chin. Even babies who resist naptime may whip this one out when they’re especially exhausted.
“Mom” in sign language
Your little one will want to know how to address their favorite person in baby sign language. To sign “mom,” simply spread your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your chin.
“Dad” in sign language
Dad will want in on the fun too! You can make the sign for “dad” by spreading your fingers apart, then with your pinkie facing forward, tap your thumb to your forehead.
“Poop” in sign language
Everybody does it, so you might as well learn to sign it! If you want to indicate “poop” in sign language, clench both hands into fists and stack 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. Next time baby soils their diaper, they’ll let you know—before you even smell it.
“Yes” in sign language
Another easy and important sign to learn is “yes.” Enthusiastically nodding your head is great, but this sign gives baby yet another another communcation tool. Intuitively, “yes” in sign language looks just like a nodding hand. Make a fist and then, folding at your wrist, bob your fist up and down.
“No” in sign language
Again, shaking your head works, but this sign helps reiterate the point. To express “no” in sign language, extend your thumb, index and middle fingers, then quickly snap them together.
“Food” in sign language
Instead of signing “hungry,” baby may want to ask for “food.” This sign can also mean “eat.” Communicate “food” in sign language by flattening your fingers on top of your thumb and then bringing your fingertips to your mouth.
“Help” in sign language
When learning and teaching baby sign language, be sure to review the sign for “help.” This can be useful to baby in so many different situations; plus, being able to ask for support from a parent or caregiver can help reduce any frustration a baby may feel. If you want to communicate “help” in sign language, simply 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.
“Bath” in sign language
Want to tell baby it’s bathtime? Express ‘“bath” in sign language by making two fists, then moving them up and down in front of your chest (as if you were scrubbing yourself clean).
“Book” in sign language
Storytime is the best time! Use your hands to say “book” in sign language; 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).
“Medicine” in sign language
The sign for “medicine” is made by placing your middle finger into the palm of your opposite hand and twisting.
“Share” in sign language
To sign “share,” extend one hand flat, with your thumb pointing up. Then, run your other hand back and forth along the top of your extended fingers.
“Sorry” in sign language
Teach baby to show empathy and express feelings before they know how to do it verbally. The sign for “sorry” is made by rubbing a fisted hand in a circle over your chest.
“Please” in sign language
Manners matter. Teach baby to ask for things politely from the get-go. To sign “please,” extend your fingers and thumb out, then rub your flattened palm against your chest in circles.
“Thank you” in sign language
Nothing is sweeter than watching your little one express gratitude. And they’ll appreciate it when you show them the same respect and courtesy right back. To sign “thank you,” straighten your thumb and fingers, then bring your fingers to your chin and pull them away.
“You’re welcome” in sign language
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.
“I love you” in sign language
This is one sign you’re going to both want to use all the time. 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.
“Hurt” in sign language
The baby sign for “hurt” is done by clenching both hands into fists, then extending your index fingers and touching them together.
Here, you can see 25 of the most common signs, all in one comprehensive baby sign language chart.
Now that you know the basics of how to teach baby sign language, begin practicing a few words you think you’ll use most frequently at home. Your little one will love having a special way to communicate their wants and needs with you. What’s more, having the ability to express your feelings to each other will help strengthen your bond. It’s a win-win!
About the experts:
Jann Fujimoto, CCC-SLP, is a certified speech-language pathologist in Wisconsin. With 17 years of experience, she has worked in birth-to-three programs, pre-schools and schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and outpatient clinics. She received her MS in communication disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas.
Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.