How (Not) to Teach Your Baby Sign Language


A woman teaching a baby sign language.When my daughter was six months old, I began to introduce some baby signs to her. I picked a handful of words that I thought would be helpful for her to communicate to us: eat, drink, milk (formula), more, all done, play, sleep, mommy and daddy. I had read that it could take up to a couple of months for her to start signing back to us, and so, for months, I signed the above-mentioned words as often as they came up in our daily routine. 

But she didn’t sign back. So after a while, I backed down.

I began signing sparingly, if at all. I cut back to just the signs for eat, drink, more, and all done, and introduced the sign for “stop.” But she still didn’t sign back. Until one day, after she was already one year old, she signed “more” while she was eating. I cheered and clapped and did a happy dance, and then I gave her “more.”

Now, at 15 months, she signs “more” whenever she wants something and then usually follows up with the sign for “eat” or “drink.” While she’s eating, she will sign “more” or, if I ask her, “all done.” She also signs for “milk” for her nightly bottle while she impatiently waits for it to warm. She isn’t talking yet, so although her signs are far from perfect (or maybe even accurate), they have been a helpful way for her to tell us what she wants and for us to avoid many meltdowns.

I definitely recommend baby sign language and plan to try them out again if and when we have a second child, but based on our experience over the past nine months, I’ll try a new approach.

  • Start introducing signs at 8-9 months. Although the recommended age for introduction is 6-9 months, I think six months was too early for us.
  • Start with just 4-5 words. Eat, drink, milk, and more have all been really helpful. Mommy and daddy would have been cute, but they aren’t really necessary.
  • Your signs don’t need to be perfect. My daughter seems to think “more” means “eat” but I know what she means, and that’s what really matters.
  • Be patient. There is a reason why they say that it should take 2-3 months for a response. Because we started early, my daughter was probably right on track, but when I backed down, so did she.

Here are some resources that have been recommended to me by other moms who sign with their babies.

Have you tried sign language as a communication tool? Let us know in the comments!

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Jana is a stay-at-home mom, currently living in Greenwich with her husband, Iain, and daughters, Laila and Nora. Jana is originally from Westchester County, NY, met Iain at college, married in June 2011, welcomed Laila in December 2012, and welcomed Nora in August 2015. On any given day, you can find us playing, reading, or out and about running too many errands and taking advantage of some of the many perks that Greenwich and Fairfield County have to offer.


  1. This is helpful! Thanks for writing.

    I do just want to point out that “baby” sign language is real American Sign Language (ASL), so calling it baby sign language isn’t really accurate to what it is. You’re teaching your baby (and yourself) a different language! Be proud of this, and don’t downplay the fact that ASL is, in fact, it’s own language.

    Let’s move away from calling it “baby sign language” and just calling it what it is – ASL!

    Great job teaching and learning from your baby! I love this.


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